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Read: Seeds of Earth

British Science Fiction / Space Opera is a genre of its own, isn’t it? With Seeds of Earth Michael Cobley has earned his place among much more known authors of the genre.

There was nothing really that I did not like. Yes, he switches the perspective and plot line with every new chapter what I often cannot stand as it just disguises a lack of plot and clear thought. Yet, here, there is structure. Here, it works quite well.

And there is certainly enough “plot.” The story is well planned and there was even a plot twist that I did not anticipate. It’s nice to be surprised. I think this indicates the quality of the writing. Too often everything is too obvious.

Maybe the aliens aren’t alien enough and there are humans everywhere. Yet, like so many successful and good (two different things) science fictions authors he anticipates social and technological developments – or at least the fear of them

My only sorrow is that there are another three tomes in the series (at the moment). How likely is it that Cobley can keep up the pace and is able to entertain that well?

Read: How not to be wrong

With “How not to be wrong” being about mathematical thinking I was a bit surprised about how much of it was about statistics. And even though it (may) lack(s) the depth of critique of the (ab)use of statistics that can be found in the works of Ziliak and McCloskey or Gigerenzer it is a very good popular treatment of the topic. Worth the read.

A particular additional added value is – in my opinion – the reminder that most things in the real world are not linear. Linearity is just an approximation, valid for only (very) small ranges. I agree with Ellenberg, we – I – forget this too often.

The only thing that I did not like was the sports references (I can condone idiosyncratic tastes in music). The book includes lots of footnotes and endnotes with references. So many, and so many recent ones that I, indeed, found a few new sources that I added to my to-read list. That is rare.

Read: Inferno

It is interesting that I would unwittingly pick up two novels in a row with a plot motivated by the malthusian catastrophe. Since one was a science fiction and the other is rather a mystery novel they can be hardly compared. The moral dilemma caused by the problem (of overpopulation) and the proposed solution are (even) less satisfactorily discussed by Brown. He does neither reveal whether he considers the malthusian catastrophe a present thread (I do not) nor does he (openly) hint at his own position regarding the villains solution.

Yet, the villain is somehow de-demonized. Hence, maybe, Brown hints at his position after all.

After about two-thirds of the Novel the protagonist learns about several layers of deception that he had to experience during the past few hours. The reader learns he was deceived as well. The mystery of the novel is thus the result of being fooled by the authors. There is no intricate web of clues, no chance that the reader cold solve the mystery. Brown just deceives his readers. Honestly, I was quite annoyed.

The bottom line is, Inferno and Brown disappoint on more than just one level.

Read: The End Specialist

Drew Magary’s The End Specialist (or the USA version The Postmortal) is interesting for (at least) two reasons. The first is, of course, the idea to explore the consequences on an individual and societal level of finding a cure for aging. (Was Malthus right, will we suffer horribly from population growth after all?) The second is the literary style of writing such explorations in the form of a personal (b)log, giving the particular perspective of a single individuum.

While I feel that Magary does not take full advantage of the blog approach, it allows for leaving many gaps (in the time sequence of the story, the protagonist’s development, and the details of his fictitious world) that otherwise would be perceived negatively.

The bit parts remain absolutely undeveloped, the political and economic ramifications of the elimination of natural death are not spelled out in greater detail, only minor bits and pieces that have an immediate effect on the protagonist are made explicit. Hence, The End Specialist may disappoint a little on the exploration of the individual and societal consequences of the end of death expectation that the reader may have had before reading the novel. Other science fiction novels do a much better job on this end.

Yet, The End Specialist’s moral is clear. “The cure for death must never … be legalized.” At least as long as we all have to stay on earth.

Read: Crescent Dawn

While Cussler’s Cresent Dawn is well, or rather fast paced and, surprisingly, was not going over the top as many Cussler novels do the character development is going all wrong. At least as far as Dirk Pitt Jr is concerned.

The whole subplot of the loss of Pitt Jr’s love interest and its violent conclusion is non-credible. The parallelism between father and son with respect to their lost love is unnecessary. There is no reason for “cloning” Dirk Pitt. The figure is easily exchanged without copying every little feature as the other Cussler novel series prove. The bonding time between Pitt and his lost love is too short to justify his actions and, I guess, the emotional scars in later novels. His vengeful violence depicted in the novel is excessive and does to seem to fit the earlier impression I had.

Overall, the novel seems to suffer a bit from the rather large number of main characters. The too many protagonists lead to less room for character development and to too many subplots. Each of these subplots may be interesting, all of them are, however, under-developed and thus too shallow.

All in all, Crescent Dawn is neither Cussler’s worst nor best.


Read: The Making of the Economic Society

What should we expect of a 13th edition of a textbook? I would hope for something like Heilbroner and Milberg’s The Making of the Economic Society.

The text is an excellent brief introduction to economic history (and systems). It is concise and a pleasure to read. The Making of the Economic Society can also serve as an introduction to economic thinking and as such is a great complement to any text for a principles course.

Beginning with chapter 5 the book becomes more (too) US-centric. I would love to see a european edition. Nevertheless, the text is pleasantly balanced. Capitalism in Europe has its own chapter, and the discussion of socialism and globalisation necessitate a more broader view.