Disclaimer: I received this Uncorrected Page Proof as a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review. No other compensation was requested or offered. Some material may be changed in the final product, due out 5/23/17.
Today there was a news story about a member of the European Parliament arguing against equal pay for women on the grounds that “they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent.” Unsurprisingly, this MEP was male. Equally unsurprising was the tongue-lashing he got from a fellow MEP who happened to be female. But while it’s unusual for a theoretically respectable politician to say these things in public nowadays, it is a current of thought that stretches back to at least the ancient Greeks. And often science has been misused to justify such attitudes.
This book is mostly about the science of sex differences (that is, “how are men and women different?”) and how that science has been interpreted over the years to justify sexism and resistance to social change on the subject, but also about contrary evidence and theories that paint a more egalitarian picture. The author is an award-winning British science journalist who was assigned to write a piece on menopause but found enough material for this book.
The book begins with Charles Darwin claiming that women were less evolved than men for reasons. Then it covers multiple subjects such as brain imaging and primatology on the way to the riddle of why women don’t just die when they become infertile. (The last has two major competing hypotheses named “The Grandmother Hypothesis” and “The Patriarch Hypothesis”; all the scientists that have gone on record as supporting the latter are male.)
There’s a reference list for each chapter, and will be an index in the final product. There may be illustrations in the published version; there were none in the proof copy.
A repeated theme of the book is the suggestion that many sex difference researchers started from “essentialism”, the basic assumption that men and women are different in fundamental ways, and then did their research in such a way as to disproportionately focus on the ways the sexes are different, rather than similar, and sometimes even finding differences that don’t appear to actually exist. It’s also notable that several male researchers come across as dismissive of research done by scientists (particularly women) whose results contradict their own theories. One, for example, admits that he’s never studied bonobos himself, but clearly the research results found by a woman must be wrong since it’s different from what he learned by studying chimpanzees.
The writing is clear and concise, and should be readable by bright high school students on up (although some parents may find parts of the subject matter, such as the existence of intersex people, uncomfortable.) Recommended to those interested in science, feminism and the intersection of the two.
Magazine Review: Astounding Science-Fiction January 1946 edited by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Before Analog (see previous reviews), there was Astounding, the science fiction magazine that led the field for many years. Having gotten a copy of an issue from the pulp days, let’s take a look at what wonders lie within. Despite the cover date, the ads indicate it came out in early December 1945.
The lead and cover story is part one (of two) of “The Fairy Chessmen” by Lewis Padgett (a pseudonym for Henry Kuttner working with C.L. Moore.) It is roughly a century into the future, and the world is at war…again. After World War Two, the governments of Eurasia had crumbled, and reformed as the Falangists. They and America are the two superpowers and implacable enemies. Thanks to atom-bomb-proof shields and robot warfare, the war has stalemated for years.
Most Americans live deceptively peaceful lives in scattered communities on the surface, while the warmen toil in vast underground cities whose actual locations are closely guarded secrets. Low Chicago might be below the ruins of Old Chicago, or anywhere in the Midwest. Of course, in such conditions claustrophobia and other mental illnesses are a continuing concern, and it’s up to the Department of Psychometrics to keep the warmen in good mental health.
Which is why it’s concerning that Cameron, the head of the department, has been having hallucinations of eyeball doorknobs and talking clocks. He’s trying to keep it a secret, but his help is desperately needed by the War Department. It seems they have captured a scientific formula from the enemy, one that drives anyone who studies it mad (sometimes giving them strange powers in the process. For example, the levitating man who thinks he’s Muhammad’s corpse.)
There are time travel shenanigans involved, and one character seems determined to produce a specific future. The title comes from “fairy chess”, variants of the strategy game that use changed rules, such as a knight that can only capture backwards, or a 10×10 board. The formula changes the rules of physics, sometimes in mid-equation, and scientifically trained minds crack under the strain.
A nifty throwaway (probably) bit is the existence of “fairylands”, miniature cities with tiny robots that people play with ala the Sims. There’s also an amusing typo when one character claims he’s “half misogynist” when he means “misanthrope.”
Unfortunately, this novel is long out of print, so I have no idea how it ends. The cliffhanger is neat: “The edges of the spoon thickened, curled, spread into cold metallic lips. And kissed him.”
“N Day” by Philip Latham (pen name of R.S. Richardson) concerns an astronomer who discovers the sun is about to go nova. He tells the world, but is dismissed as a crackpot. (Had there been more time, someone would have checked his math and found him correct.) As a result, he finds his spine for the first time in decades.
“Veiled Island” by Emmett McDowell takes place on Venus (the pulp Venus of swamps and jungles.) A three-person anthropological team goes in search of the title island to investigate reports of a new variant of human. Apparently, unlike Earth, Venus just keeps producing new human variants out of the swamps which then climb up the ladder of civilization as they travel to the other side of the planet.
The Earthlings promptly crash-land, losing their clothing and supplies–they themselves have to start from scratch. While struggling to survive, they run into the new variant of humans they were looking for. A variant that seems destined to replace homo sapiens.
The sexism is pretty thick here, the action guy protagonist denigrates his female colleague for wanting to be treated as an equal, calling her a “tomboy” and the type who would have been a suffragette back in the day. (Apparently something like feminism happened in this future, but he’s not too keen on the results.) Over the course of the story, she comes to realize how awesome he is, and they are planning to get married (in the now considered barbaric Twentieth Century fashion) at the end.
The evolutionary science is suspect–emotionlessness is viewed as a huge evolutionary advantage that will allow the new species to outcompete other humans and replace them.
“A Matter of Length” by Ross Rocklynn (pen name of Ross Louis Rocklin) takes place in a far future with galactic travel. A stable mutation has created a new kind of human, the “double-brained” Hypnos, who have the ability to hypnotize ordinary humans. They are not physically distinguishable from other humans, but can be detected by “Sensitives.” Hypnos face severe prejudice, and there’s a war going on between societies that want to exterminate them and those that tolerate them.
All that is background. A Hypno named Joe has been captured by anti-Hypno forces, and was being shipped back to their planet for a show trial and execution when the ship went off-course and landed on a planet where time has gone wonky. There’s a paranoid belief among some of the crew that Joe somehow caused this, or is making them hallucinate this, despite the anti-mind control forcefield surrounding his cell. Eventually, the time wonkiness allows Joe to escape, and he rescues the two people on the ship who are not entirely anti-Hypno.
It turns out that Hypno powers have been vastly exaggerated as propaganda by the anti-Hypno forces; Joe never actually uses his mind control abilities during the course of the story. It’s the holding cell force field that gives him the temporary advantage he needs as it shields him from the time wonkiness for a while. Keitha, the Sensitive woman who tracked him down, is dismayed to learn that she’s next on the extermination list after all the Hypnos have been eliminated (as Sensitives are Hypno/ordinary human crossbreeds.)
Apparently, there are also longevity treatments in this future, as the captain of the anti-Hypno ship holds a grudge against the Hypnos for the death of his daughter nearly a century before, with the war starting later. (It’s a “failure to save” instance–a doctor who was secretly a Hypno couldn’t cure the daughter from a fatal disease, and when his secret was revealed, he was lynched for deliberately killing a human girl.)
“The Plants” by Murray Leinster takes place on a planet with only one form of life. Plants with flowers that follow the sun…or anything unusual that happens. Four men whose spaceship was sabotaged crash-land on the planet. Are they more in danger from the pirates that sabotaged the ship for its precious cargo…or from the plants? A story that has some creepy moments, and could have gone full on horror if the author wanted.
“Fine Feathers” by George O. Smith is the final fiction piece. It’s a science fiction retelling of the fable “The Bird with Borrowed Feathers” usually ascribed to Aesop. A ruthless businessman discovers a way to artificially boost his intelligence by energizing his brain. The process renders the user sterile (somehow) but since he wasn’t interested in having children, Wanniston considers that a small price.
Being superhumanly intelligent gives Wanniston a huge advantage over his fellow Earthmen, and he is soon the most powerful businessman on the planet. But he yearns for more, and when a suicide trap makes it untenable for Wanniston to stay on Earth, he decides to join Galactic civilization, where dwell people who have come to super-intelligence by eons of evolutionary processes. He keeps using the brain energizer, and is soon even more intelligent than the Galactic Ones.
Being logical beings, the Galactic Ones recognize Wan Nes Stan’s (as he now calls himself) superior intellect, and are willing to install him as their leader…as soon as his experience catches up to his intelligence in a few centuries. Wan Nes Stan tries to shortcut the process, only to discover his true limitations and destroy himself.
The story bookends with identical dialogue at the beginning and end, which would be effective if the language in those conversations wasn’t so stilted. It also uses the 10% of your brain gimmick (which admittedly was less debunked back then.)
John W. Campbell’s editorial “–but are we?” is prescient on the subject of nuclear proliferation though thankfully humanity has survived so far.
There are two science fact articles. “Hearing Aid” by George O. Smith is a very short piece on radio proximity fuses. “Electrical Yardsticks” by Earl Welch is about the international standards for the volt, ampere and ohm; how they were decided, and how they are maintained. Lots of math here, and possibly the technology is dated, but likely fascinating reading if you want to know more about electrical engineering.
I liked the Leinster piece best because of the thin line it walks between horror and SF; “The Fairy Chessmen” has some great imagery, but with only part one I can’t judge its full effectiveness.
Overall, an average issue, but well worth looking up for old-time science fiction fans.
Book Review: Creatures from Beyond edited by Terry Carr
This 1975 speculative fiction anthology has the theme of monsters from outside human experience. The question of what lies in the outer darkness has haunted humanity since we developed imaginations. These nine stories look at the possibilities, from implacable enemies, to beings a lot like us in the end.
“The Worm” by David H. Keller is set in a remote Vermont valley that has become depopulated, leaving only an old miller. He no longer runs the millstone, but one night he notices a grinding vibration…A canny and stubborn man against a seemingly inevitable devourer, with a mounting feeling of dread.
“Mimic” by Donald A. Wollheim involves insects that have evolved protective camouflage to live among humans. This story doesn’t have much actually happen in it (unlike the 1997 movie very loosely based on it) with the really chilling moment being when the narrator realizes that the insects aren’t the only creatures that have learned new mimicry tricks.
“It” by Theodore Sturgeon has the distinction of being the inspiration for no less than four independently created comic book characters (Solomon Grundy, the Heap, Man-Thing and Swamp Thing.) It’s a horrific tale of a human corpse that somehow has been animated by hot molds and unknown factors; it stumbles around the woods trying to satisfy its curiosity in destructive ways. And now it wants to learn about humans….very strong last sentence.
“Beauty and the Beast” by Henry Kuttner has a greedy, small-minded man discover the wreck of a spaceship that’s been to Mars. Inside, he finds some seeds and a jeweled egg, and decides to try them out to make a profit. This is of course not the best idea he’s ever had. Genre-savvy readers will spot the twist coming a mile away.
“Some are Born Cats” by Terry and Carol Carr was chosen, as the editor admits, because it’s a sentimental favorite, the first he co-wrote with his wife. Two teens realize that the girl’s cat is not actually a cat, but an alien. Happy ending all around.
“Full Sun” by Brian W. Aldiss takes place in the far future, when humanity, served by its faithful robots, has retreated to shining cities, and the wilderness areas are infested with werewolves. A hunter from the city is tracking down a particularly dangerous werewolf, but he may have more than one enemy in the forest. Interesting last minute perspective twist.
“The Silent Colony” by Robert Silverberg is told entirely from the viewpoint of the creatures, aliens who’ve occupied the outer planets, and now notice that some of their kind are on Earth already. But why won’t the colonists communicate? Short.
“The Street That Wasn’t There” by Clifford D. Simak and Carl Jacobi is their only collaboration. A retired professor suddenly notices that his daily walk took a few minutes less than usual, and discovers that an entire street has vanished from the town. The “creature” in this case is an entire alternate universe that’s trying to superimpose itself over ours.
“Dear Devil” by Eric Frank Russell closes out the volume with a friendly Martian exiling himself to Earth. Humanity has nearly wiped itself out with nuclear and germ warfare, and the few survivors have reverted to tiny tribes at best. Fander, despite his fearsome appearance, is a poet, and moved by a thing of beauty, helps the humans bring themselves back from the brink of extinction. The Fifties sexism is strong in this story. Boys are naturally interested in mechanics, engineering and exploring; girls are delicate, and naturally interested in dolls. This holds true across species lines here! It weakens an otherwise decent story.
The Silverberg story is the weakest, and I suspect it was included to fill an exact number of pages. The Wollheim and Sturgeon stories are the best here. Check your library or used bookstore.
H.G Wells (1866-1946) was not the first science fiction author, nor even the first one to write about time travel. But he was the first writer in English to produce multiple important works in what would become the science fiction genre. The Time Machine was published in book form in 1895, reworking a magazine serial The Chronic Argonauts, that first ran in 1888 and was then revised and updated in 1894.
The guests at a dinner party are skeptical when a philosophical discussion of Time as the Fourth Dimension (after length, breadth and depth) is revealed to be practical. Their host claims to have invented a device for moving through the chronal dimension, a “time machine.” He demonstrates a small model, which appears to work, and announces that he plans to have a full-scale one ready for the next party.
That next week, the host is late to his own party, and appears in great dishevelment, shoeless and limping. Once he’s tidied himself up and dinner has been eaten, the Time Traveller (as he is called) spins a fantastic tale of the future he has seen. The narrator visits him again later, only to apparently miss his friend’s departure–the Time Machine is also missing, and neither ever appear again.
This story is a distinct departure from earlier time travel tales, which tended to feature either “visions” or suspended animation as the travel mechanism, and were in the “Utopian” mold. The traveler would be ushered around the shiny (or horrific) future by a friendly guide that explained everything. This story has the Time Traveller able to navigate at will while on his machine, and he must draw his own conclusions from his observations, as no one speaks English in the year 802,000+.
To be honest, the Time Traveller is, despite his scientific prowess, kind of a stumblebum. It doesn’t occur to him to pack for a time voyage, or even put on sensible shoes. He loses the Time Machine overnight, and only gets it back as an indirect result of accidentally starting a forest fire that probably kills the one person in the future who actually likes him. He’s also far too fond of the word “incontinently”, using it at least six times in this short narrative. He makes and discards hypotheses about what has happened to create the fey Eloi and the nocturnal Morlocks; he admits that his final guess could be completely wrong,
Those who have seen only the movie adaptations should be aware that the romance with Weena isn’t really in the book. The Time Traveller isn’t even sure if she’s biologically female, and being “not a young man” seems to consider her somewhere between a granddaughter and a really smart pet. He also gets over any compunctions about killing Morlocks very quickly.
We also see glimpses of story ideas Wells had and discarded; the Very Young Man’s second thought for using a time machine is to make himself rich, and one of the potential hitches in the plan is mentioned.
The last couple of chapters are very somber, as even the last traces of humanity have evidently vanished from the far future Earth, and the Time Traveller finally reaches a cold darkness that convinces him it is time to return to the present.
I received this book as part of an anthology of Wells’ major works for Christmas, thanks, brother! It remains a classic well worth looking up; as it’s in the public domain, you can probably download it free on the internet, or find an inexpensive edition in used bookstores.
Manga Review: Batman: the Jiro Kuwata Batmanga by Jiro Kuwata
In the mid-1960s, the Batman TV show was a huge hit not just in America, but also in Japan. As a tie-in, 8-Man creator Jiro Kuwata was hired to create a manga version of Batman for the local market. While the television show was more based on the late 1950s comic books, the research materials Mr. Kuwata were given were from the “New Look” period, which discarded many of the sillier elements that had been layered onto the franchise over the previous decade to make the Batman comic books as serious as you could expect in the Silver Age.
Thus, this manga has relatively little humor, focusing on Batman as a scientifically-trained detective. Robin is a bit irreverent, but not nearly as much of a wise-cracker as he was in the American comics. The serialized weekly format also changes the structure of the stories, which is more obvious in the plots that are lifted directly from the U.S. version.
The first story is an adaptation of the appearance of very minor villain Death-Man. For the manga version, his name was changed to Shinigamijin which would be literally translated back into English as “Death God Man”, so it’s rendered as “Lord Death-Man” instead. The villain’s gimmick is that each time he’s captured, he dies, then comes back to life and commits more crimes. This freaks Batman the heck out until he finally figures out the trick, and Lord Death-Man meets his final fate.
Oddly, there’s an appearance by a Flash villain, the Weather Wizard, renamed Go Go the Magician. This story demonstrates Batman’s skill at “prep time” setting up a plan to deal with Go Go’s weather control powers which would normally make the villain hard for a normal human to defeat.
The final storyline in this volume, “The Man Who Quit Being Human”, showcases how adaptation changes stories. Both versions feature the governor of whatever state it is that Gotham City is in discovering that he has a gene that allows for mutation. He agrees to undergo an experimental process to stimulate this gene to see what mutants will be like, so that if more show up, humanity will be ready. Unfortunately, it turns out that mutants are insanely powerful, implacably hostile to normal humans and will attempt to destroy humanity. Batman is regretfully forced to destroy the mutant (his code vs. killing does not apply to non-humans.)
The Japanese version gives the governor a daughter who also has the mutant gene. The scientific community debates what to do about this, and the consensus is that she, and by extension anyone else with the mutant gene, must be preemptively executed to prevent further evil mutants. Can our heroes find a way to spare her? This raises the stakes nicely.
The art is very 60s manga, and might take some getting used to for those used to modern art styles. There are a few pages where Mr. Kuwata obviously took a lot more time for detailed renderings; these are particularly effective.
This volume is recommended for Batman fans, and fans of 1960s superheroes in general. Note that some of this material has been previously been printed in a coffee-table sized book, which has a lot of extra information about the series and is highly recommended.
Book Review: The Third Chimpanzee for Young People by Jared Diamond, adapted by Rebecca Stefoff
Disclosure: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
This is a young adult version of Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee, originally printed in 1992. I have not read that book, so will not be making direct comparisons. I have, however, read Guns, Germs & Steel, which has some overlap with this volume.
Mr. Diamond is a biogeographer and evolutionary biologist. In this book, he discusses the information (current as of 1992) that scientists have about the evolution of humans, who share about 98% of their DNA with chimpanzees. This segues into an examination of human behavior, how it is (and is not) unique among the world’s animals; and winds up with some thoughts about what this might mean for humanity’s future.
The language is clear and should be suitable for strong readers from 10-11 up; there’s also a helpful glossary at the back along with an index. There is no bibliography, presumably because the sources would not be written for young adults. There are several illustrations and sidebars to break up the text.
Parents of sensitive tweens should be aware that the book covers some “heavy” subjects, such as war and genocide. There’s also some discussion of the probable evolution of human sexuality.
A couple of chapters recap the information from Guns, Germs & Steel about why some human societies developed technology more quickly than others. Mr. Diamond frequently uses “narrative causality”; trying to find the most logical sequence of cause and effect without being able to fill in all the links in the chain.
The final chapters deal with the looming specter of environmental destruction and mass extinction of animal species. (But not anthropogenic climate change.) Mr. Diamond is pessimistic about the chances of alien contact. He does believe, however that conservation and population control can mitigate the worst effects of human behavior. After all, while evolutionary biology explains many things about human behavior, it is not the only explanation. We have free will.
This would be a good general introduction to anthropology and biogeography for middle schoolers and non-science majors. Some of the information is out of date, due to it being more than two decades since the original book was written–serious students should review the recent research as well. As Mr. Diamond repeatedly reminds us, his opinions influence his interpretation of the available evidence.
Book Review: The Why of Things: Causality in Science, Medicine, and Life by Peter Rabins
Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
The author of this book is a professor of Geriatric Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, and it started as a clinical teaching presentation. Patients often ask “why did this happen to me?” In attempting to answer that question, and so many more, the overall concept of causality becomes a subject.
The book makes two presumptions for the sake of discussing the subject, first, that causality exists, and second, that time moves in only one direction. The latter may be disprovable should the speed of light ever be broken, but at the moment, it’s a reasonable assumption.
The model of causality presented in this book has three facets: causal models, levels and logics. In order to correctly use this model, one must decide which part of each facet to apply to the problem at hand. Empirical logic, for example (aka the scientific method) is often the best choice of method for looking at causality in the physical sciences, while empathic logic (a coherent narrative) might serve better to examine historical causation.
After examining each facet in detail, Mr. Rabins then demonstrates how this model can be used to examine such topics as Alzheimer’s and the problem of violence.
There are extensive references, and an index. The only illustrations are the facets, repeated through the book with different emphases.
This is graduate-level material, and pretty thick going. It would be useful to students in scientific, medical or history majors, as well as relevant to classes in logic or statistics. Fiction writers, especially in the field of science fiction, may also find it useful when writing the thought processes of scientist characters.
In the indefinite future, Ryuko Matoi is the delinquent daughter of a mad scientist who arrives home after a long time away at school to find him murdered with one blade of a giant scissors. The killer, too far away to identify, has the other blade. Ryuko vows vengeance.
In the course of her investigation, Ryuko comes to Honnouji Academy, a school with a rigid social structure based on what uniforms the students are allowed to wear, from the powerless zero-star students, to the three-starred Student Council whose “Goku Uniforms” greatly enhance their superhuman abilities. At the top of the pyramid is Satsuki Kiryuuin, a cold and tyrannical girl who seems to know something about Ryuko’s quest.
Ryuko meets the very…special zero-star student Mako Makanshoku, who immediately decides that Ryuko is her new best friend (and Ryuko winds up bunking with the Makanshoku family.) Ryuko also meets a number of one-star students, who she can easily beat up even without special clothing. The two-star boxing club captain, on the other hand, is easily able to defeat Ryuko. Being a bit brighter than many shounen heroes, Ryuko retreats.
Back at the ruins of her house, Ryuko stumbles across the insanely powerful uniform she will name Senketsu. It’s sentient, and forces itself on her in a very disturbing scene. They don’t get along at first, but Senketsu gives Ryuko the power she needs to return and defeat the boxer, declaring her intention to beat some answers out of Satsuki.
The first half or so of the series is Ryuko battling her way up the opponent ladder to get a good shot at Satsuki. Then she (and the audience) finally get some answers as to what’s really going on, and the scale of the battles enlarge. There’s much more at stake than one man’s murder or who gets to be top dog at a high school.
This Studio Trigger production is by many of the people who created Tengen Toppen Gurren Lagaan and is similarly over the top. It’s also a homage to the work of Go Nagai, with Cutey Honey being an obvious influence throughout, and shades of Devilman coming in towards the end.
In addition to rather heavy violence, the series is kind of raunchy, with frequent nudity and some skeevy sexual molestation (mostly by the main villain.) The nudity does serve a thematic purpose, as one of the running motifs is the relationship of people and their clothing, and the meaning of fashion.
If you can get past that, the series is a lot of fun with some great jokes and exciting action.
Book Review: After the Vikings by G. David Nordley
This collection of “tales of future Mars” was first published as an adjunct to a conference on possible first contact and the planet Mars.; the stories had individually appeared in Analog and Asimov’s magazines. When the author realized he’d written them from furthest in time to closest, he decided on a framing sequence involving alien archaeologists excavating Mars in the very far future when Sol has become a white dwarf.
“Morning on Mars”: Humans are now unthinkably old, and a new species is on the brink of succeeding them. There is time, still, for a celebration of life.
“The Day of Their Coming”: Humans make first contact with intelligent aliens. Some of the Martian colonists discover that they may have more in common with the aliens than their fellow humans.
“Comet Gypsies”: A family is nearly done harvesting a comet for terraforming materials, and the oldest child will soon have to leave the only home she’s ever known. No one in the story is Roma, I suspect the author was unaware of how problematic the word “Gypsy” is.
“A Life on Mars”: A medical emergency sparks a trip on a dangerous experimental ship. But even if a life is saved, can a family be put back together?
“Martian Valkyrie”: A tale of the first expeditions to Mars. Sexism and nationalistic rivalries may doom everyone. But the beginning can wrap around to the end, and the collection’s title has more than one meaning.
The stories take place in a relatively hard SF universe; there’s no faster than light travel or communication. Despite my quibble about the title, I liked “Comet Gypsies” best, for its balance of science and human drama.
As with many small press books, there are a couple of proofreading errors, a dramatic reveal is spoiled in one story because half the word is missing. There are a couple of non-explicit sex scenes, which may be problematic for young readers or their parents.
This is a nice collection of decent stories, and deserves to be more widely known.