Sunday, August 13, 2017

Paper Girls Volume 3 (Brian K. Vaughan)

Paper Girls Volume 3
(The Paper Girls series)
Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang
Image Comics
Fiction, YA Graphic Novel/Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)


DESCRIPTION: The four paper girls from 1988 Stony Stream have finally reunited... but just where, or when, they have no idea. A primeval forest full of beasts surrounds them - but is it the future, or the past? The discovery of a primitive girl and a futuristic scientist further complicate matters, as the polluted timestream once more threatens the lives of everyone and everything.

REVIEW: The paper girls are in entirely foreign territory, quite literally, through this volume, stuck in the distant past with a young woman who may be pivotal to the future of the human race - but even the past has been corrupted by the "foldings," the temporal rifts that have caused so much havoc everywhere and everywhen the girls end up. They have hopes for answers from Doctor Quanta, the time traveler from a future not too far from their own, only to find more questions and more problems. The characters continue to develop nicely, and the story remains interesting. The ending leaves me eager for the next installment, whenever it appears on Hoopla.

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Paper Girls Volume 2 (Brian K. Vaughan)

Paper Girls Volume 2
(The Paper Girls series)
Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang
Image Comics
Fiction, YA Graphic Novel/Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)


DESCRIPTION: Paper girls Mac, Tiffany, and Erin just escaped the strange nightmare enveloping 1988 Cleveland - only to land in 2016, right in front of a car driven by a grown-up Erin. As younger Erin and older Erin struggle to deal with each other, the question of what happened to KJ remains... and it's not long before time-traveling pursuers turn up, along with more terrible monsters. What's going on? Who can be trusted? And why are the four girls seemingly at the heart of it all?

REVIEW: This second volume sees the paper girls split up; KJ is missing, while the other three contend with the wonders and dangers of the future, not to mention the ongoing threat from the time-travelers. They each react differently. Erin is disappointed to see that she never got out of Stony Stream, while Tiffany can't help being fascinated by 2016, and tomboy Mac faces a devastating revelation about her own family and probable future. Meanwhile, older Erin confronts her past self and the dreams she lost on the way to growing up. The extra levels of character development underlay the main plot threads, which continue to race along at a brisk pace. It remains intriguing enough to keep me reading through the third volume.

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Flight (Sherman Alexie) - My Review
Found (Margaret Peterson Haddix) - My Review
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Paper Girls Volume 1 (Brian K. Vaughan)

Paper Girls Volume 1
(The Paper Girls series)
Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang
Image Comics
Fiction, YA Graphic Novel/Sci-Fi
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: In the wee morning hours after Halloween in 1988, paper girl Erin runs afoul of a trio of teenage bullies - only to be saved by three other paper girls. Tiffany, KJ, and Mac invite her to join their group, saying there's safety in numbers. Usually, they're just up against the odd thief or rowdy. This morning, however, they find themselves up against something stranger - and much more dangerous. Suddenly, most of the people in the neighborhood have disappeared and the skies fill with pteranodon-like beasts. What is going on... and why does Erin feel it's somehow familiar, like the nightmares that have been plaguing her?

REVIEW: This award-winning graphic novel begins the journey of four young teen girls from a small Cleveland suburb, thrusting them into a bizarre and dangerous adventure. Distrust of grown-ups takes on a whole new meaning when visitors from the future begin decimating the past... and, somehow, the four girls are caught right in the middle, pivotal players in a temporal nightmare. It's a fast-paced adventure with interesting, distinctive characters.

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The Dragon Quartet (Marjorie B. Kellogg) - My Review
The Time Keeper (Barbara Bartholomew)- My Review
Serpent of Time (Eugene Woodbury)- My Review

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Natural History of Dragons (Marie Brennan)

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent
(The Lady Trent Memoirs series, Book 1)
Marie Brennan
Tor
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Lady Trent, widely recognized today as one of the leading dragon researchers in the world, at long last presents her personal memoirs, which tell a rather different story than her official papers. As a young girl in Scirland, Isabella was always drawn to the world of science in general and dragons in particular, interests that amused her father but horrified her proper mother. Try as she might, though, she cannot become a properly tame young lady, culminating in her joining her husband Jacob in an expedition to the mountains of Vystrana to study rock-wyrms in their native habitat. She was supposed to keep herself out of trouble, but problems with the locals - and with the dragons - soon land them all in danger.

REVIEW: Pseudo-historic fantasies with dragons aren't uncommon on the bookshelves these days, but Brennan offers a world that is both less familiar and more detailed than many. Her "Scirland" and other nations resemble Victorian-era Earth only in the broadest strokes, and her dragons become real creatures full of intriguing puzzles for a young natural scientist like Isabella to explore. She herself is a rebel against society only insofar as her passion for dragons and unladylike research; in other aspects, she's well entrenched in her class and culture. She even attempts to set aside her desires for the sake of her family and her future, but there's only so far she can make herself bend to society's will - and, fortunately, she finds allies to help her. The tale takes some interesting twists as the pursuit of rock-wyrms entangles with smugglers, thorny international politics, and other dangers in a foreign and increasingly hostile land. While the tangle of geographic names and relations grows a bit thick and the end has a couple twists that felt a little too convenient and subtly unsatisfying, overall I found it an intriguing start to a series I'll probably pursue through at least the next book.

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The Book of Dragons (Ciruelo) - My Review
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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fool Me Twice (Shawn Lawrence Otto)

Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America
Shawn Lawrence Otto
Rodale Books
Nonfiction, Science
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Since its inception, America has been a paradox. The Declaration of Independence was written on foundations of reason and science and personal education, a deliberate break from the faith-based authoritarian nations of Europe - yet, from the outset, Americans seemed to value personal opinion over objective fact and practicality over the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Science and anti-science have been in conflict from the start, and lately the latter has gained a worrisome upper hand, backed by powerful interests that play on the most divisive aspects of human nature and religion (and the worst mistakes of science's own history) in a way that actively endangers the future of our country, not to mention our world. The author discusses the history of science, the disasters that historically accompany its rejection in favor of misguided and selfish ideals, and what might be done to correct course before it's too late.

REVIEW: Written in 2011, Fool Me Twice sounded an alarm over the increasing hold on political power that those with anti-science, authoritarian agendas have gained over the past decades - an alarm that, given recent developments, fell on deaf ears. Even reasonably progressive leaders like Barack Obama proved reluctant to openly debate science or campaign on a pro-science platform, recognizing how many Americans have been led to view it with skepticism. What we're seeing, Otto convincingly argues, is the end result of at least a generation of effort by those with vested interests in a less educated, less questioning populace. How we got to this point is a long (and sometimes long-winded) tale, the creation and fomenting of divisions playing out age-old schisms, not to mention the exploitation of flaws in both the political system (which has always valued rhetorical debate over scientific exploration of ideas) and the human mind. One could blame Big Money and the weaponizing of  fundamentalism (a force that didn't used to conflict with science; indeed, many great scientists, past and present, find no conflict between faith and logic), but Otto points out that scientists aren't entirely blameless; not only did science perpetuate some serious problems, but it failed to engage with the public even as the anti-science forces became adept in media manipulation. It failed itself by not recognizing that science, like all human endeavors, is inherently political - particularly in modern times, when science is essential to sustaining civilization. Now, scientists scramble to play catch-up - but, in a country where elected officials openly mock the scientific process, where facts take a back seat to provably invalid opinions on reality, where the public has limited access to (let alone understanding or appreciation of) science, they're fighting uphill against an entrenched opponent, one with very deep roots, deeper pockets, and far more experience on the battlefield.
Otto sometimes uses a heavier (and more verbose) hammer than is necessary; his condemnation of the equal rights and feminism movement, while valid insofar as condemning the extreme ideas that arose from it, ignores the human biases and inequalities that necessitated the movements to begin with, biases and inequalities that certainly affected scientists (being human, and products of the same society as the rest of us flawed humans), if not so much the process of science itself, which has always striven for objectivity. Acknowledging and addressing those biases would seem to increase the likelihood of achieving objectivity. Unfortunately, in university settings and public opinion, the movement didn't end there, according to Otto, giving rise to the "postmodern" idea of mutable reality that he ties directly to modern American notions that facts themselves are matters of opinion based on personal experience.
The book can be a slog at times. but it's ultimately worth the effort, with a few glimmers of light in the darkness. At the end, Otto asks directly what kind of future we want, what country we will choose to be: the one that continues to embrace outdated economic myths and outright lies in the name of immediate short-term gains for the powerful few, creating more schisms and isolating itself further from a world that is (for the most part) marching ahead, or the one that confronts the challenges ahead armed with the best known tool, that of science. He predicted a hard and long road, but a potentially navigable one, for science as of 2011. After 2016, I fear it's become exponentially harder and longer...and quite possibly impassable, at least in my lifetime.

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Unbound (Richard L. Currier) - My Review
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Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (Bill Nye) - My Review