Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Time Traveller's Wife

Finally finished a book !

I read The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger as a sort of diversion from the Oppenheimer bio. It's quite the popular book right now, on remainder tables everywhere.

The premise is that there's this guy who has temporal teleportitis, which means he randomly and without warning or any control travels to a more-or-less random place and time in his own life. So like, he won't go to ancient rome, but he will go to last week at work, or the time when his mom died when he was a kid, or to twenty years in the future to visit his own widow.

Layered on top of that, Niffenegger writes a fairly basic true-love story.

Things i liked:
  • The writing was okay.

  • The basic concept.

  • That Niffeneggar chose the simplest model of time-travel, where you can't change the past. I appreciated that she did this, because i think the more complex model of a mutable past would have thrown the book solidly into Sci-Fi, and while that may itself be an interesting book, this book wasn't really about that. I also doubt Niffeneggar's ability to pull it off.

  • The scene where our hero finally convinces a doctor that his problem is real, by the method of accurately predicting the birth of the doctor's baby, including Downs Syndrome. That was successful drama.

Things i didn't like:
  • The writing was okay.
    Really, just okay.

  • I felt the story is a patchwork of various topics which were unrelated except that they're all things Niffenegger has always wanted to write about: The Drama of Childbirth, Alchoholism, Audrey Niffenegger's Dream House, Audrey Niffenegger's Dream Man, Audrey Niggenegger's Punk Rock Taste in Music, etc. They were just sort of uninspired and really served little purpose except to fill pages.

  • I guess that's it really.
All in all, a fine/decent first novel,
and there may be more coming from Niffenegger, but she needs to tighten her focus and write really About something, versus jumping around the house like Jeffy or whomever in Family Circus, leaving a dotted trail of a book from one favorite object to another.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

American Prometheus

I'm about halfway thru American Prometheus, the 2005 biography of Robert Oppenheimer. As i haven't really read much biography, i'm not sure if it's good or not. The information is definitely amazing, but the presentation seems a bit weird.
It'll be going along telling facts and events and then suddenly the narrative voice will become weirdly oppinionated or colloquial.

Quick summary of things i've learned about the bomb -

  • The fact that uranium is fissionable was discovered around 1939 by german physicists. This was the moment when the idea of nuclear explosions first came about.

  • Because so many jewish physicists had been persecuted by the nazis*, there was a large scientific community in the united states which both opposed nazi germany and knew a lot about atomic physics.

  • Research towards the bomb was started quite early, before 1941 i think. The motivation on the part of Oppenheimer et al was to build (and use) the bomb before the nazis did.

  • A shocking number of otherwise stand-up pacifists worked on the Manhatten Project.

  • Only one scientist quit the project after the war in Europe ended.

  • The U.S. knew Japan was seeking to surrender, and wanted to use the bomb before Russia declared war on Japan, becuase they figured Japan would surrender if that happened and then we wouldn't get to demonstrate the bomb to the Russians.

  • Oppenheimer & friends approved of the Hiroshima bomb. Why ? He'd convinced himself and others that the only way to deterr the world from a nuclear arms race was to actually use the bomb. Go figure.

  • Oppenheimer blah blah, genius, amazingly charismatic, blah blah.

  • More to come.

* Do i capitalize nazi ? - i guess i definitely don't capitalize it right after i just didn't capitalize jewish, huh.

I'll soon be starting The Time Traveller's Wife, a story by Audrey Niffenegger. The premise is that there's this life-long couple, but the guy has temporal teleportitis. That is, he uncontrollably teleports in time. So sometimes their together and he's 50 and she's never met him before, sometimes vice-versa, etc. Mykle said he heard it's poorly written. We'll soon see about that. It happens to be the current book for Michelle's book club.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Twain, LeGuinn, Robert Oppenheimer, The Strand

It's been a while since i wrote here,
mostly because i thought i wasn't really reading anything,
but it sneaks up on you.

I finished reading Twain's Roughing It. I didn't actually read the last fifth or so, but i was finished with it anyhow. It's nice, but i finally got bored a bit before he goes to Hawaii.

I'm nearly done with The Compass Rose by Ursula LeGuinn. I think one of my favorite things about LeGuinn is how i continue to find books by her which i haven't read. This book is a collection of short stories from about 1972 to 1985 or so. Most of them are typical LeGuinnian excellence, but there's a couple duds. My favorite so far is Intracom, which portrays a goofy spaceship crew on a goofy interstellar mission. The crew are all basically comically incompetent, and there's lots of simple gender humor. (The only male is named Mr. Balls, for instance) Finally an alien develops on board and threatens to waylay the entire mission, but the crew decides to accept this and pretty much sacrafice their unknown mission to the well-being of the alien monster. Altho there were many clues i only realized pretty close to the end that it's an allegory for pregnancy. It's a rare sample of 'clever' writing which satisfies rather than annoys. If you can grab that story, it's super. Even tho i've now given it away. Oh, The White Donkey is also one of the most beautiful unicorn stories ever written. And shortest; it's like three pages. It was included here.

I've started American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. It's a 2005 biography of Robert Oppenheimer, whom i feel like i should know about for some reason. I think i want to identify with him. This is only the second biography i've ever read, i think.

I once saw a movie that was just a collection of films of nuclear explosion tests. It may have had a classical music score. I'd like to get hold of it again. If you totally remove them from any context they're amazingly beautiful. And thus crushing, because you can't remove their context.

Over the weekend Michelle and i visited Patrick and Janina in Philadelphia, and went to The Strand bookstore in New York. - I'd apparently never been in a bookstore before. In about an hour the four of us spent close to $500. ($200 being Janina) Basically that store has every book, cheap.