Saturday, May 05, 2007

I've enabled comments so feel free to write back to me about any of my posts.
Just finished Killing Time by Caleb Carr.

For some reason, Carr's reputation is that of a more "literary" author but the books of his that I have read all seem to be fairly standard genre fiction. Neither the writing nor the characters are noticeably different.

Killing Time is his first science fiction book and was first published as a serial in Time magazine and there is nothing to distinguish this book from a lot of dystopian works available. The specific dystopian themes seem to be drawn from very current, mostly left-wing, conspiracy theories about the dangers of the un-regulated Internet and the pernicious influence of business and trade on governments around the world but the rest of the book harkens back to such science fiction classics as Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea - the protagonist stumbles into a plot by a mad scientist to overthrow the current corrupt society, no matter what the cost. There are a few interesting twists and turns along the way but the ultimate conclusion and denouement are disapointing.

Amazon link: Killing Time

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Yesterday I finished Complications by Atul Gawande.

Gawande's day job is as a surgeon but he also does a good turn as a non-fiction writer. This book is built out of a number of pieces that he wrote for the New Yorker and other magazines.

is a popular science book about the philosophical issues at the base of modern medicine. Some of the ideas he discusses are: how do we know what is right treatment, what is the best way to learn how to do a complex task, how do we make decisions given uncertainty and high stress situations, should a patient decide on their own treatment. It dovetails nicely with a lot of my interests in the nature of knowledge, decision making and how humans learn/process information.

I've got his next book, Better on request at the local library and I'm looking forward to it based on this book. I had read some of his New Yorker articles so I thought I would find it interesting but I was surprised at the breadth of his thought and the consistent quality of his writing. If you are squeamish or prone to hypochondria, some of the sections of this book might bother you. Otherwise, it is highly recommended.

Amazon Link: Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science

Monday, April 30, 2007

Yesterday I finished Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry. Fry is best known for his work on TV and film, particularly his work with Hugh Laurie, but he is also an author of a few novels. Ths is the first of his novels that I've read and I quite enjoyed it. As I've commented before, the British seem to have a handle on semi-comic slice of life writing that eludes most American authors.

Hippopotamus tells the story of Ted Wallace, a famous, very bitter and vitriolic poet who has just lost his job as a poetry critic and is asked by his god-daughter to check out the situation at her uncle's estate. There he finds a growing collection of miracle seekers and, possibly, some redemption for some of his wasted life.

The book is written partially in epistolary form, as letters between Ted and his god-daughter and others, and partially in standard form. Some good moments come when letters from others reveal what Ted has tried to hide or overlooked from his viewpoint in his own letters.

A short but enjoyable book, particularly if you enjoy the dry, English sense of humour.