Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Physics 401
"The Fabric of the Cosmos"
by Brian Greene

The Fabric of the Cosmos is a huge book. It took me about four months to get through, and that's without stopping to really grasp some of the more complicated topics discussed. I picked it up out of innocent curiousity, merely wanting to know more about physics, and I heard this book was accessible and enlightening. So, instead of the oft-discussed A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, I went with this.

Let me first say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Brian Greene writes for the layman. His examples of the complicated world of physics involve The Simpsons and X-Files, among other things, making the learning both fun and interesting, and well worth-while. He also lets the reader know when an overly complicated piece is about to be explained and purges any guilt by saying that there's no harm in just skimming over the section. I mean, what's not to like about this guy.

Still, about halfway through, I couldn't help but feel like I was taking a distance learning physics course. Greene gives the entire history of physics, including a thorough treatment of Einstein's theories (with ample Simpsons examples as noted above) and dives into the present and onto the future. Greene has done something quite amazing with this book, he's made complicated physics accessible to the masses while consolidating current research and breakthroughs into one volume, making this book useful to working physicists and rocket scientists and robot designers. That's just a guess.

The distance learning feeling isn't a bad thing though. It's like jumping in the water without getting your feet wet. What I loved most about reading this book is that the topics it covers are exciting. I learned a lot, and even though I'll probably never put any of this knowledge to use, it got the rusty abstract wheels in my head turning. And Greene's a great teacher because he assumes no prior knowledge from his class, so he explains it all, with wonder, which makes it even more dazzling.

Covered in this "course" are the history of phyisics from Newton to Einstein to recent ideas like The Higgs Ocean (basically that air is an entity - which I think makes perfect sense) and electromagnetism to current research on String Theory and Super String Theory and all of their entanglements and excitements. Greene also broaches philosophical subjects, which is inevitable when dealing with the abstract because it is the abstract that much of philosophy encompasses. While I didn't agree with him on most subjects (i.e. teleporting a person, or making a perfect clone, would make the person identical to you down to the last ounce vs. where I think a person cloned would not have the intangible qualities of soul, but would instead have a fresh soul. But I digress because this is obviously a longer discussion better suited for a message board or club meeting, right?) I did find his viewpoint unique and insightful.

The point? If you're of a curious mind, don't want to spend the money for a college course, but want to learn all about physics in one place, if you don't mind not taking tests (wha...?), and if you like to be inspired by words, this book is for you. But be prepared for a committment, and make sure you plan for a vacation when you're done.

As for me, school's out for summer! And as for you, if you pick it up, enjoy!

I like this cover, mostly because of the fluid spiral that I believe is supposed to resemble a string, a tiny plunk length string. But I could be wrong. My mind is mush right now and this book's the last thing on my mind (end of school sigh).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Crappy Twin
"Bad Twin"
by Gary Troup

I screamed "No!" from page one, but the geek in me, well, the geek in me wanted some answers.

Let's switch universes. We're in Lost reality now, not our world, but the world where Oceanic Flight 815 existed and crashed and one of its passengers was an author, an author of Bad Twin. Now switch back, so we can geek out.

There's a TV show called Lost that just started shooting its third season, and during the break an alternate reality game started called "The Lost Experience". This experience blurs the lines between reality and story world, it crosses over characters in the form of actors. The Lost Experience has encompassed TV commercials, the internet, and now, a book. It's big drawing point is that it's going to explain the numbers (4-8-15-16-23-42), though probably not completely and not without a ton of heavy handed advertising (these people aren't doing this for free, right? they got to get rich!).

In season 2, Hurley's reading a manuscript, called "Bad Twin". He makes mention of the fact that it's really good (don't believe him, his taste is horrible). In an effort to get money from suckers like me (I checked it out from the library, though, so ha!) Hyperion released "Bad Twin" under the pseudonym Gary Troup (A fictional character from the show that was sucked into one of the engines in the pilot episode. He was also a flight attendant named Cindy, whom we haven't seen much of but is going to be part of the third season). "Bad Twin" was one word off from being an apropos title: "Bad Book". It's just as well the real author didn't put their name on it, because it's one of the worst books I've ever read.


It's not even worth it to attempt to describe the muddled plot. Just know that none of the dialog is real, all of the descriptions are cliches, and there isn't one instance when you actually believe or are engulfed by the story or the characters. It looks like the people behind this book just threw something together with tangential references to things or people related to the show. In the end, even that was poorly done.

If it helps, anyone interested in The Lost Experience, but not wanting to waste time on this book, here is what is mentioned but never explained: The Hanso Corporation is housed in the Widmore building (which Hurley visits to talk about his money in season 1), Mittlewerk is a man that works for Hanso and is also on the Widmore Corporation's board, there are mentions of the Helios Foundation (people hoping for a new Eden), a Noah's Ark Foundation, the dog's name is Argos, another Greek name, and, per usual, a laundry list of appropriate books are mentioned that may or may not have clues (the book list is so big that nearly anything could).

Other than that, it's a bunch of mumbo jumbo hogwash that goes nowhere and satisfies nothing. With writing like "he got naked to the skin" or "the sugar and caffeine were in a footrace towards his brain" you've got to wonder why and how and over who's dead body did this get out there. Even if it's author was made infamous by a flight that disappeared somewhere between Australia and Los Angeles.

Or did it?

The conspiracy continues, but at least for me, it won't continue in any future books written by dead passengers from Oceanic Flight 815. I've got the geek under control. For now. God Speed.

The cover, like the book, is thrown together. So it too, is good...for me to poop on.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

No Holes Here
"I Am The Cheese"
by Robert Cormier

I Am the Cheese is one of my longtime favorite books. I just recently bought it and thought, hmm, I think I'd like to share this with Aubrey, the soon-to-be misses.

Whenever I share something I like I get nervous because when I like a book or a film or a piece of art, it becomes a piece of me because I make it my own. Every book I read that I love both takes and leaves profound moments from and in my life. So, as usual, I was nervous, hoping Aubrey would like it.

She did. And, even though it's been a few years since I read this book, it was a hell of a ride, no pun intended. The books starts off with a bang:

I am pedaling furiously and I am on Route 31 in Monument, Massachusetts, on my way to Rutterburg, Vermont, and I'm pedaling furiously because this is an old-fashioned bike...
I've always loved the beginning of this book. The picture of this kid pedaling furiously, bike tires rotating endlessly, off to somewhere. But we're not concerned with that, we're just concerned about the breathing, the hard bike ride ahead, because this kid is going all the way to Vermont from Massachussets, on bike.

It's the all-consuming sense of freedom, of being on a bike on the open road, that attracts me. There's all this danger in the world, you're so vulnerable on a bike, and yet you go, and you feel the wind on your face, and it's all self-sufficient. You are your own momentum. Ahhh.

Without giving too much away, I will say that, for a young adult audience, this book takes some very heavy-handed themes on. Most interesting are the ideas of protection and secrecy, predeterminism vs. free will (or the sense of freedom, being able to make your own choice, vs. the idea that everything you do is being manipulated by someone else, conciously or unconciously), and the awkwardness of young love.

The book flips back and forth between Adam Farmer riding his bike to Rutterburg with a package for his father and an interview, presumably in a psychiatric hospital, between unnamed "T" and unnamed "A". As Adam Farmer makes his way across the state and encounters his own obstacles, more is revealed about the patient "A", and the paths of these parallel stories begin to converge, leading to an inevitable intersection and, ultimately, the revelation of an unthinkable secret.

This book was a pleasure to read. I can't give it any more of a recommendation than to say that Aubrey was hanging on its every word. I caught her reading ahead once (I was reading it aloud to her, which I highly recommend doing, by the way) and pulled the book away so she couldn't see. The suspense had her wide-eyed and breathless. It was great to watch.

I Am the Cheese is a fabulous book. Whoever you are, whereever you may be going, pick it up, I dare you. You'll pee your pants.

The cover is awesome. It's simple, and, like every nail-biting chapter in the book, tells the whole story without giving anything away.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hitting the Tylenol PM, Hard
The Sandman part 1
by Neil Gaiman et al.

I have to be honest, I was never hooked on comic books as a kid; I was hooked on the characters. I loved to collect comic book cards, I loved to devour the vital statistics and backstory of every superhero and villain known to man. It was like getting the good stuff without having to make a huge committment. Periodically, my interest bent towards an X-Men or Spider Man comic book, and I was into the Wolverine comic books for a while, but on the whole, it's been a long time.

Until recently. Until The Sandman. It's almost like I've been sleeping all these years. Hmmm.

Sandman is a graphic novel. Graphic novel is a fancy word for adult comic book. It's one of those words we use so we don't sound or feel so childish when we know that, basically, the stigma is that adults don't read comic books. But unlike most of the childish vices we delve into, The Sandman is a comic book that takes you back, that reminds you of the joys of fantastical storytelling. It takes you places, on wings, in style.

Enter the world of Neil Gaiman, writer of The Sandman, where dreams come from an entity whose sister is Death. The Sandman was accidentally summoned by a group of power and life hungry men hoping to capture Death and stay alive forever. Not realizing they had made a mistake, and afraid of upsetting forces they perhaps shouldn't have tampered with, they kept him trapped for years, letting their children inherit their mistakes. The Sandman lost three powerful relics during his enslavement and, when he escaped, came back to a world that hadn't had a good nights rest since he was captured.

Preludes and Nocturnes, the first volume of many, follows The Sandman on a quest to find his lost relics. Along the way, he encounters some characters we've met before (John Constantine, Scarecrow, etc.) and nearly meets up with others more tantallizing (The Justice League of America and Batman, for instance). This alone enriches The Sandman's world, and makes it a pleasure to read the stories.

The artwork is beautifully devastating and the writing gets better with each story. It's neat to see a writer find his voice, try out things that may not have worked but sound really cool conceptually, and finally to see the payoff of what we know is very hard work. While I didn't particularly "buy" all of the stories, I definitely reveled in the fun that they had to offer.

The cover? Come on, it's a comic book cover. It's flippin sweet! Super serial.