Featured New Release Of The Week: Extremophile by Rick Chesler

This week we’re looking at arguably the closest Rick Chesler has come to date of telling a tale one would nearly swear could have been written by the late great Michael Crichton. This week, we’re looking at Extremophile by Rick Chesler.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

Welcome To Our Ool. Notice There Is No “P” In It. Seriously though, after reading this book you’re never going to look at getting into a pool the same again – and certainly will be particularly careful about any sudden urges to just urinate in one. 😉 Overall a very fun, nearly Crichton-esque, adventure tale of a biotech CEO desperate to save his company and willing to go literally anywhere in the world to do so. And that ending. It won’t be for everyone, but dayum I loved it. Great, fun near future scifi adventure and a relatively short read at 230 ish pages. Perfect for a bit of summer thrills and escapism. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Relativity by Ben Adams

If Douglas Adams Wrote “Men’s Fiction”. Take the hilarity and wit that *Douglas* Adams was known for in his scifi and apply it instead to a tale of three middle aged men each having distinct mid-life crises that all get wrapped up in each other… and you basically have this book. More of a “men’s fiction” tale that explores similar themes as the better known “women’s fiction” genre, but focusing on the guys rather than the gals, this is a wild romp with heart – and a relatively short read at under 250 pages to boot. Adams manages to pack quite a tale within that lower page count though, and the laughs are on nearly every page. Truly a more lighthearted and off-the-wall book that many may need in trying times. Very much recommended.

This review of Relativity by Ben Adams was originally written on May 26, 2022.

#BookReview: The Social Lives Of Animals by Ashley Ward

Wild Romp. This is a book that takes us on a wild adventure across the planet as we see the societies various animals have built, from the smallest Antarctic krill to the large Orcas and Humpback whales to the largest land animals out there – the African Elephant. Fascinating in breadth (though with a dearth of bibliography, as the Advance copy I read only contained about 9% bibliography compared to 3x that amount being more typical, even in early copies) and often hilarious in approach, this is a book that lovers of any animal great or small are going to want to check out. Though I *would* be careful with younger readers (and apparently there is a children’s edition already being planned), as the primate chapter in particular gets a bit salacious. Apparently you can’t talk about baboon social life without talking about just how promiscuous – and “pansexual”, to put a human label on it – they are. Other than that particular section though, most anything here is about the same as anyone will hear on TV / at work / at school as far as “bad” language goes. Truly a fun tale that never gets too academic and yet manages to present quite a few (presumed, see note about bibliography above) facts that are likely new to most readers. Very much recommended.

This review of The Social Lives Of Animals by Ashley Ward was originally written on February 26, 2022.

#BookReview: The Treeline by Ben Rawlence

Lyrical Anthropological Examination That Needs Better Scientific Documentation. When Rawlence is describing the people and peoples he is traveling to and among, he has such a lyrical quality to his prose here that it really is quite beautiful – these are the best parts of this book. However, Rawlence is also quite the pessimist about human action and survival, going on at one point to proclaim that Earth would be better off without humanity. While this is not an unheard of proposition, fantastical claims like that require substantial documentation – and documentation is what this text sorely lacks, clocking in at barely 10% of the overall text (25-30% being more “normal”, and I’ve read books making far less fantastical claims clocking in north of 40% documentation). Ultimately, your opinion of the book is likely going to depend on whether you agree with Rawlence’s politics and philosophies, though, again, the writing when he is *not* speaking to these really is quite beautiful. Still, even in what he does present and even with the lack of documentation, this is a book that needs to be read by most anyone speaking to any level of climate science, as he does bring up some truly valid points here and there. Recommended.

This review of The Treeline by Ben Rawlence was originally written on February 13, 2022.

#BookReview: The Language Game by Morten H Christiansen and Nick Chater

Fascinating. This is a book that basically argues that Noam Chomsky had some great ideas, but ultimately was quite a bit wrong and quite a bit off. And yes, that is an oversimplification explicitly designed (by me) to hook you into reading this book while also giving you an idea of the ultimate direction here. The authors are consistently afraid of “anarchy” *even while actually touting its exact benefits* – their entire argument is that language (and humanity) evolve best and most usefully outside of the bounds of rules (and thus outside the bounds of rulers – and since the literal definition of “anarchy” is “without rulers”… 😉 ). Which is where they ultimately come into conflict with Chomsky’s ideas of a universal language and a universal grammar machine. For someone that is decently educated but well outside the specific field at hand (Bachelor of Science in Computer Science), I found this to be a solid examination of the topic in language that I could easily follow- whenever technical discussions within the field were at hand, Christiansen and Chater did a solid job of using their running metaphor of a game of charades to explain the differences and similarities in what they were describing using a system that so many of us know fairly well and can relate to very easily. As I said in the title here, truly a fascinating book, one anyone “of the word” – and thus, any reader, since we are *all* people “of the word” – should read. Very much recommended.

This review of The Language Game by Morten H Christiansen and Nick Chater was originally written on December 1, 2021.

#BookReview: The Genome Defense by Jorge L Contreras

Dense Yet Enlightening. If you’re like me and don’t like taking books across into a new month, I do *not* recommend trying to read this on the last day of the month while still working or having virtually any other obligation. Though its bibliography is a touch low at just 17% of this advanced copy (and it has numerous problems, at least in this form, of saying something like “the industry spent $ billions of dollars” without actually giving the number – a problem I’ve never noted before in any other such text), much of the reason for that is that the author himself conducted so many interviews and consulted the public court records so much, so at least there is that on that particular point. Beyond its sourcing though, this is truly a fascinating yet *dense* look at the particular issue of the AMP v Myriad patent lawsuit that eventually became a landmark Supreme Court of the United States case, detailing its full history and the personnel involved, at least insofar as their personal involvement with the case goes. (Vs other similar books looking at a particular issue like this, where full biographies of the personnel are given. Here, just enough biography is given to establish who this person is within context of this issue and their motivations surrounding it, without giving their full life stories outside of events connected to this exact case.) You may say to yourself “this is just 350 or so effective pages, that is an easy day’s read”. IT. IS. NOT. I cannot reiterate enough just how dense (yet truly readable and fascinating) this book is. Almost as though it seems to try to pack in double the amount of words of a book of similar length. Still, it is truly compelling, truly comprehensive, and truly well written, and for this it is very much recommended.

This review of The Genome Defense by Jorge L Contreras was originally written on October 1, 2021.

#BookReview: Life As We Made It by Beth Shapiro

Solid History, Perhaps A Bit Too Optimistic On Future Tech. In showing the history of how humans have been using crude genetic engineering essentially since we first began interacting with the world – both plant and animal – and in showing how our more modern techniques – including CRSPR – came to be, Shapiro does a great job in showing just how much humans have *already* shaped the evolution of non-human life on this planet. In the ancient world, she uses a lot of her own experiences as a scientist in that exact field, and even in the more modern cases she is discussing techniques she mentions in the earlier sections as having used extensively. On these points, Shapiro is truly excellent.

Where she stumbles a bit – not enough for a star deduction, but enough for a bit of commentary – is that she is perhaps a bit too optimistic about how genetic tinkering will be used in the future. Yes, she discusses the various quandaries, but even in such discussions- *even when discussing the GMO humans created in China a couple of years ago* – Shapiro tends to just hand wave over the negative, darker sides of the technology even while acknowledging their potentially cataclysmic power. This is where a solid dose of science fiction is useful, showing that even when scientists such as Shapiro have the best of intentions… things may not always turn out the way they think, and thus caution truly is warranted. (Yes, I’m thinking of a specific book in this particular example, but the reveal that GMO is used within it is a *massive* spoiler, and thus I’m not naming it here. I *will* note that it is by the same author and indeed part of the spoiler is that it uses some of the same tech as described in HUNGER by Jeremy Robinson, which is another cautionary tale of the “benefits” of genetic modification.)

Still, for what it is and for what the description claims it sets out to do, this truly is a solid examination of the history and current state of the field, and for this it is very much recommended.

This review of Life As We Made It by Beth Shapiro was originally written on September 10, 2021.

#BookReview: To Rule The Waves by Bruce Jones

(Mostly) Solid Examination Of History And Current Events. This is a fairly well documented – nearly 100 pages of its 400 are bibliography, *in addition to* at least a few paragraphs of footnotes at the end of every chapter – examination of both the history and current events of why both commercial and military control of the oceans is so important to human advancement. Some of the facts presented are truly mind-boggling, such as the sheer size of the Maersk Madrid – a ship used as a recurring case study, where if its full load of possible shipping containers were transported in a standard 2-high rail configuration, the train just to load this singular ship would stretch for *78 miles*. Others are more “standard fare” for most anyone who knows anything about the history of ocean travel or oceanography. Still, the book is current through March 2021, which is remarkable considering that I acquired this ARC in early June 2021. A must-read on a wide variety of issues from the complexities of modern logistics to the root cause and practical implications of modern military struggles to even the loss of American manufacturing jobs and the rise of Donald Trump, this book shows how control of the oceans has impacted all of these topics and many, many more. Really the only more “YMMV” section is the emphasis on global warming/ global cooling / climate change/ whatever they’re calling it these days alarmism in the final section, but even here there are enough actual facts to warrant close examination. Very much recommended.

This review of To Rule The Waves by Bruce Jones was originally written on July 20, 2021.

#BookReview: Being You by Anil Seth

Intriguing Look At Evolving Science. Thirty years ago, if you asked someone to show you the scientific basis for consciousness – human or otherwise – they’d have laughed in your face because the concept was that much of a joke. Now, Seth is among the researchers actually pursuing the inquiry – and they’ve made some solid strides. In this text, Seth lays out what we now know via evidentiary science and can also posit via a range of philosophical approaches. He readily explains how both prongs of research feed off each other, and his explanations are sufficiently technically complicated to speak with some degree of precision… without being so technically complicated that you basically need to be working in his lab to understand a word of what he is saying. (Though don’t get me wrong, even as someone with a BS in Computer Science and who reads similar books on consciousness, cognition, and perception a few times a year… this one was still technical enough that I readily admit I don’t fully understand it, even now.) Absolutely a fascinating topic and a well written explanation of it from someone actively engaged in furthering the field, and it is very much recommended.

This review of Being You by Anil Seth was originally written on August 31, 2021.

#BookReview: The Last Monument by Michael C Grumley

Excellent Adventure Starter. For those who like their adventures to be Indiana Jones type – including both going into the jungle and facing down Nazis – well, have I got a book for you. This combines that basic style with Grumley’s usual science/ science fiction bent to produce much more nuanced characters who have much bigger personal stakes than his “breakthrough” series, to great effect in the closing moments. About the only negative is that the final confrontation… isn’t really there. At least not what could have been the *really* cool parts. Still, while I’m not as intrigued about this new series as I was in BREAKTHROUGH by the end of its first book, I definitely want to see where Grumley goes with this. Very much recommended.

This review of The Last Monument by Michael C Grumley was originally written on August 1, 2021.