Book Review: Edenverse by Matt Hawkins

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Edenverse: Think Tank, Postal, The Tithe, Eden’s Fall, Samaritan by Matt Hawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Smart people take on the government. Because they should.

Back in 2012, I stumbled upon the first installment of Think Tank from indie comic publisher Top Cow. This was back when online stores selling e-comics were still not completely up with technology. I bought Issue #1 and then tried to read it. It wouldn’t download to my comic reading app. I tried to send it to my iPad. It didn’t like the strange format. I tried reading it in the store’s very own comic app. It suggested my iPad and computer were too new.

I won’t go into the details of exactly how I read that first issue (hint: comic files are just a bunch of pictures if you can slice them open), but even with all of the frustration of this first purchase I still enjoyed the story.

Dr. David Loren is many things: child prodigy, inventor, genius, slacker… mass murderer. When a military think tank’s smartest scientist decides he can no longer stomach creating weapons of destruction, will he be able to think his way out of his dilemma or find himself subject to the machinations of smaller men?

So started a five-year avid following of one of the more interesting techno-thriller series I’ve come across. Unfortunately, I switched from buying individual issues to the collected volumes, which were entirely more reliable in those early years of e-comics. I say unfortunately because as a result, I didn’t realise that Think Tank was part of an expanded universe – something the last few pages of regular issues highlights with previews.

Now I’m caught up. In particular, The Tithe and Samaritan are excellent additions to the Think Tank universe (Edenverse, named after the town in the Postal series). Matt Hawkins and illustrator Rahsan Ekedal have pulled together a collection of political machinations, high-tech possibilities, real-world issues, and social commentary for a brilliant collection of comics. Seriously, they have references for the topics, tech, and background at the end of each book, something that tickles my inner scientist with delight.

I highly recommend these series to comic fans, especially those who like techno-thrillers or crime-thrillers.

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Book review: How to Build a Universe by Brian Cox and Robin Ince

How to Build a Universe: An Infinite Monkey Cage AdventureHow to Build a Universe: An Infinite Monkey Cage Adventure by Brian Cox

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m going to bake some chocolate muffins from scratch, so this book should be useful.

Professor Brian Cox, Robin Ince, and Alexandra ‘Sasha’ Feachem are the team behind the popular The Infinite Monkey Cage, a BBC science show that pairs scientists and comedians for laughs and education. From 2009 they have produced +100 shows covering all sorts of topics. This book encapsulates some highlights and essays around their favourite topics and common science communication issues* they have covered in that time.

From the opening forewards to the covering of Schrodinger’s Strawberry I was heartily entertained. As a science nerd and fan of comedy, this book seems to have been written specifically for me. It actually left me feeling a bit annoyed that I haven’t, as yet, listened to The Infinite Monkey Cage show, despite having been aware of it for quite some time. So I guess I’ll be rectifying that soon.

What I like most about this approach to science is that it doesn’t seek to sex up science (or dumb down, depending upon the preferred flavour of marketing), but instead make it accessible and entertaining. There is a line between those two that too often those in the media can’t tell the difference between. Science is interesting, but it is complicated, it is often dry, and communicating scientific knowledge as done here is hard to do.

* Yes, I do mean how people aren’t willing to honestly engage with science, either through pseudoscience co-opting, or denial of evidence, or wanting certainty instead of the probability that science offers.

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Book review: Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)Dune by Frank Herbert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tangential foreshadowing from the Collected Sayings of Maud’Dib by the Princess Irulan.

After his dad is asked to take over keeping the oil supply flowing out of the Middle East, Paul, a promising MMA fighter, witnesses the death of his family and friends, narrowly escaping into the desert with his pregnant mother. Befriending a small band of freedom fighters, Paul becomes their holy leader and prophesied deliverer. Meanwhile, the military-industrial-complex of the infidel are trying to apply their bootheel to the impoverished desert people. Can Paul use guerrilla tactics to overthrow the infidel, become Emporer and bring jihad to the west?*

Okay, so Dune does predate the general cluster-truck that is the Middle East conflict, but you do have to wonder if Herbert was munching on a bit of spice for inspiration when writing.

Unlike some other sci-fi classics, Dune does hold up as a novel in the modern day. There are some aspects that mark this as a book of the 60s (e.g. anything related to women) but it isn’t as jarring thanks to the complex worldbuilding. A lot has been poured into this novel that had me marveling at the efforts involved for one book. And yes, I know about the sequels and expanded universe novels, but this was clearly written as an open-ended standalone.

I have previously tried the expanded universe books that were co-written by Kevin J Anderson and Herbert’s son Brian. They did not grab me. The amazing worldbuilding that defined many of the concepts of space opera sci-fi** didn’t appear to have enough legs for those novels. I’m glad I picked up the original Dune to understand what the fuss was all about.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…

** https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/dune-endures

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/30/frank-herbert-dune-at-50-sci-fi-masterpiece

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Book Review: I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly

I Kill Giants

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Welcome to Superheroes Annonymous. Barbara, would you like to tell us why you’re here?
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I really enjoyed this comic. Barabara isn’t a nice character, she is a loner, outsider, and she is battling personal problems, so she takes this out on everyone around her. Layered over this is the ambiguous threat of Giants who are coming to destroy everything she holds dear.

[Spoiler] I liked the ambiguity of whether the Giants are just a fantasy world and an analogue for the troubles Barbara is battling. We see her face those troubles and grow, and (hopefully) become a better person, if one still dealing with loss. [/spoiler]

This isn’t a story for everyone, but it will pull at the heartstrings if you give it a chance.

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Book review: The Wanted by Robert Crais

The Wanted (Elvis Cole, #17; Joe Pike, #6)The Wanted by Robert Crais

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a question at the end of this book: “Is your name really Elvis?” The response should have been, “♪ Uh-hu-hu-huh. ♪”

Elvis Cole is called in to figure out how a worried mother’s son came by a luxury watch. Elvis and Joe Pike proceed to investigate a series of high-end burglaries, a spate of murders, and why two professional cleaners are looking for the teen boy. They even get to shoot people for a change.

I do enjoy picking up the occasional Robert Crais novel. They are entertaining and well paced, and offer up a slightly different take on the crime-thriller novel. Admittedly, I actually prefer Crais’ earlier books in the series as they had more humour, but his later novels are worth a read too.

What stops me recommending this novel more than the 4 stars I’ve given it is that, like any long-running series, there is a paint-by-numbers feel to the story. It is actually impressive that Crais hasn’t resorted to a more obvious formula yet, but that could be a reflection of my not reading every Cole and Pike novel.

The Wanted is another solid Cole and Pike novel, and highly enjoyable.

I received an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Book review: How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci

How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern LifeHow to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life by Massimo Pigliucci

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m still unclear if reading for pleasure is virtuous. I’m going to pretend that it is.

The former biologist and current philosopher, Massimo Pigliucci, guides us through stoicism and lots of conversations with his imaginary friend, Epictetus. I probably shouldn’t write book blurbs, because this was way more interesting than my previous sentence implies.

Before reading this book, my only understandings of stoicism came from Bertrand Russell. That is to say, I had a snarky and somewhat dismissive understanding of stoicism because Russell wasn’t a fan. Massimo dispelled my misunderstandings and also showed how stoicism could be applied to modern life. Book title goal achieved!

There are two highlights from this book. The first is that Massimo has managed to communicate his philosophy clearly and in a way that I think most people would be able to understand and engage with. The second is that he also manages to upsell readers on the idea of becoming a stoic. I’m not saying I’m rushing out to join Cult Stoic, but there are a lot of good ideas here for people to learn.

stoic-decision-making

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Further reading:
https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/
https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/bertrand-russell-got-stoicism-seriously-wrong/
https://www.reddit.com/r/Stoicism/comments/zblu2/criticisms_of_stoicism_from_bertrand_russells/
https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/9271/how-might-one-counter-bertrand-russells-criticism-of-stoicism-as-not-true-and

Book Review: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re only three adventures into your life and already have innumerable enemies seeking vengeance, is it time to stop setting stuff on fire?

Harry Dresden has been trying to figure out why ghosts have been tearing up Chicago. The veil between the real world and the Never Never is in turmoil. His godmother wants him to come and play fetch with her. And the Red Court of vampires want him to come over for a meal. Things are going so well that a war might break out.

I’m admittedly late to the Harry Dresden fan club. Now having completed my second book in the series, I can see that Jim Butcher loves to stack the odds against Harry. No depths are deep enough, no insurmountable challenges big enough for Harry. Or as Murphy’s Law states: anything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Can’t wait to read more of this series.

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