Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Challenges and goals update: How did I do in September?

September turned out to be a better reading month that I expected, and once again I’m surprised since I’ve been almost living in the lab lately. At the same time, that means a lot of commuting time, so yeii for public transportation reading! So what exactly did I read in September? Well, I started 11 books, DNF only one of them and another one I am loving but to be fair I started it on the 28th, so I haven’t been able to finish it. So I’m going to do stats only on the 9 books finished. Let’s see:

Diversifying 2015: Of the 9 books I read this month, 2 had a POC author and both had POC main characters. This pushed my percentage to under 30%, but I’m still happy with it, I want it to be at least 30% by the end of the year. The books I read were: Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson and The Round House by Louise Erdrich. The book I DNF was Origins by Neil de Grasse Tyson, but it turned out to be way too much physics for me. My boyfriend read it and loved it though.

Read Harder: For this challenge I tackled the "A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture" part with The Round House by Louise Erdrich. I enjoyed it quite a bit, albeit sometimes it felt a bit slow for a mistery.

My goals:

Read at least 1 POC author per month: As I mentioned, I read 2 this month.

Read at least 1 book in Spanish per month: I read Lo que escondian sus ojos by Nieves Herrero. It was interesting as I learned some about the Franco era in Spain, but it was oh so slow! The subtitle is The hidden passion of the de Llanzol marquess but the romance part took forever to actually develop and even then things kept going to a glacial pace. I guess it was just not for me.

Read CanLit book per month: The Hello Hemlock book club chose Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson for this month read, and I have to say, I wasn’t sure what to expect with it, but I was pleasantly surprised. More of a fantasy set in a dystopian (?) Toronto it was also full magic.

Read at least 1 book of nonfiction per month: Headstrong by Rachel Swaby. This book was an amazing even if it infuriated me several times; reading about so many women disregarded in science was not easy! I am working on the review and should be coming soon.

Finished series: The only book I read (well listened to) this month was The Heir by Kiera Cass, which makes part of the Selection series. As always it was a bit predictable, but entertaining even if the characters get my eyes rolling on constant bases. It was perfect while taking a bath though. As it turns out, it's not the end of the series but a new spin for a trilogy.

Read more already owned books: Off the 9 books I read this month 6 were my own, the other 3 came from the library.

Read the picks of the month for each book club: The Sword and Laser pick for this month was A Canticle for Lebowitz by Walter M Miller. Since it’s an old SciFi book there’s some parts that felt dated but I liked what he did with the story and how he depicts humanity. However the first part was very slow-paced and at times I considered quitting it. I am happy I didn’t! As I mentioned, the Hello Hemlock book club chose Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson for this month read.

Besides the books I already mentioned I also read Life of Pi by Yann Martel and I have to say I was disappointed. I don’t know if it’s a book that suffers from all the hype it got, but I was left with a “meh” feeling by the end of it. I also read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger and again, was disappointed. I liked The Time-Traveler’s Wife, but this one had way less whimsy and the end was unsatisfying. I finally got my hands on Ms. Marvel Volume 3. Amazing as always. My last read of the month was Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell and that one was fantastic. It’s her debut novel and I am looking forward reading more from her; it was the perfect read for the Readers Imbibing Peril X challenge.

Well that was it for September. How was your reading?

Monday, September 28, 2015

The MaddAddam Trilogy: Oryx and Crake; The Year of the Flood; MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

Format: Paperback (Boxed set)

Pages: 376; 448; 416

Source: Own (Gift)

Genres: Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Science-Fiction

Publisher: Vintage Canada

Publication date: July 28th, 2009; July 27th, 2010; August 12th, 2014.

Read on: February 22nd-28th; June 27th to July 5th; August 24th to September 1st, 2015.

Thoughts: One thing I should probably get out of the way is that I absolutely love Margaret Atwood. To this day I have not read something by her and not enjoy it. Her work on speculative fiction and science fiction is amazing, in my own opinion. So when my mother-in-law gave me the box set for the MaddAddam trilogy I was unbelievably happy, and I had to force myself to pace my reading (I did have other books to read before) of the whole thing. It was worth the effort since it not only gave me more time to digest all my thoughts, it made the experience last longer.

In the first book we are introduced to Jimmy-The-Snowman, possibly the last human on Earth. Through flashbacks we learn of the past world (still a futuristic world compared to where we are now), his best friend Crake and his lost love Oryx. The second book, told mostly from the view of Toby and Ren, sheds light on the other side of story, outside the compounds and into the plebes. The stories, both past and present, finally merge in MaddAddam, where all the final pieces of the puzzle come to place revealing all details of what happened to Earth and why it came to be what it is now. I am really trying to avoid spoilers here, but trust me, it’s a great story.

All three books are going to tackle subjects such as genetic manipulation, pharma and aesthetic procedures and finally, what pop culture/entertainment has devolved into, having (almost) every whim attended for via the Internet. As has been the case on any other book I’ve read from Atwood, characters are deeply flawed, making them even more human and involving. Unbelievable world building, and once again incredible speculative talent, particularly where it comes to science advances make this trilogy one of my favorites. I would recommend it to all my friends that are in science. If you don’t want any spoilers, this is probably the moment to stop reading.

Here is the thing. As a scientist this trilogy was both incredibly fun to read and nerve-wracking at the same time. Some of the scientific developments she describes, such as the Pigoons or the lab cultured meats, have already happened, albeit to a much smaller scale and so far with very different applications than the ones described in the book. Because I work in the academic/scientific world I am aware of where the research is (to a certain extent) and most of its limitations, even if I don’t work on that direct line of research.

But I have to wonder, what happens when someone’s first “contact” with genetic splicing or modified organisms comes through science fiction. How many of those readers will go and look for the actual science that this speculative fiction is based on? My distress comes from thinking that not many of them do and things like this only serve to fuel an uninformed fear towards what science can/can’t do when modifying genes, developing new drugs, etc.

I’ve already discussed why I think it’s so important for Science Fiction to have good science basis, and this trilogy is a great example of how amazing a piece of fiction can be with the proper scientific research to back it up. But because so many works of science fiction present these bleak and cold outcomes due to misuse of science, I can’t help but wonder how many of the people outside science are afraid of it precisely because of this dystopic panoramas. We could argue that only one “crazy” scientist is the culprit of pushing the tragedy to its final outcome. The point remains that a lot of the things discussed in this trilogy, while plausible, are presented in a scary way, which off course is understandable since we are talking about a dystopian view. I hope you understand the apprehensiveness I get about this being the first view of gene splicing some people will get.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been trying to think of an example where accurate science has been presented with a brighter view in fiction, and to tell you the truth, I haven’t been able to pinpoint one. This can be due to personal bias, as I do read a fair amount of dystopian fiction, but maybe you can help me out here. I believe that both sides of the coin (the bleak and the bright side of science) should be present in fiction, both for readers with scientific background and without out. I am fairly sure they are out there, I just haven’t found a book with a more cheerful outcome yet. If you have any recommendations, please, leave me a comment!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye

Format: Audiobook

Length: 9 hrs and 29 mins

Source: Own (Audible)

Genres: Nonfiction

Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Publication date: November 14th, 2014

Read on: June 17th to 26th.
Thoughts: Since I didn’t grew up in the US, my first knowledge of Bill Nye and his show Bill Nye the Science Guy came after I was at least in my early 20s. Hence I did not get to experience his effect on science appreciation as a kid but that is not to say I didn’t get excited about science as I was listening to his book. The fact that the book is read by Nye himself was the cherry on top of the sundae; he can transmit all of this energy and love for science a way that made me feel like a child again, learning about what makes science great.

Did I learn about evolution with this book? A little. A lot of the facts that are presented in the book are facts that, working in science, I’ve been exposed to before, albeit in a more academic background. At the same time, since I do not work on evolution myself, there were a couple of items that I wasn’t aware off or that needed refreshing in my head.

However, what I take out of this book is how good a person can be making a subject accessible without dumbing the subject down. All the information and data Nye uses are accurate and well researched, but at the same time, the tone and terminology used makes it easy to understand, especially if this is the first time you are approaching evolution.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What am I reading this month: September and R.I.P X

Hello everyone. I noticed I hadn't done one of this since June!. But today I had the time and also I am using this post as my oficial R.I.P registration, so, let's get into it.

For my reading more in Spanish goal I will be reading Lo que Escondian sus Ojos (What was hidden in her eyes) by  Nieves Herrero. Now, I've tried to keep to Latin American authors for my Spanish reading, mainly because there are a lot of expressions that change, but I've heard good things about this one and it was available at the library, so here we are.
For the Sword and Laser Book Club, we will be reading A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. I am intrigued by this one, since in their last podcast they mentioned this is one of the first "post apocalyptic" books, so that's definitely interesting.
For my "reading more CanLit" goal and the pick for the Hello Hemlock book club, we will be reading Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson, which will also go towards my Diversifying 2015 challenge (you can sign up here). I will also be (finally) reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel as a Canadian author.
On nonfiction, I am reading (well, listening) to Origins by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I love the author and the work he does in vulgarization of science, so I am quite exited to listen to this one.
Besides those, I will also read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger. I got this book on a library sale right after I had read The Time Traveler's Wife but I hadn't put myself to reading it.
On the other hand,  in case you missed it, this year R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril X will be hosted by The Estella Society and off course I am participating. However, unlike on previous years, I think I am going to play it safe and just go with 2 books, which is Peril the Second.
My choices are: Before She Dies by Mary Burton, a mystery that has been sitting on my shelf for years now; and Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell, another mystery but a YA this time. Usually I manage to read a bit more than 2 books for R.I.P X, specially with the Read-A-Thon coming on October, but most of the books I am choosing this month are print and fairly big which reduces my commute reading. But we will see.

Anyway, those are my future reads as for now. What are you reading this month? Let me know in the comments and have a nice week!