Friday, April 3, 2015

For a Change, Let's Talk About Actual Books (Part 17)

Have a happy Easter, everyone!

...I had no follow-up for that.  Ah well; let's just move on.  Click down below the break to see what I'm reading at the moment, and what I'm thinking of it so far.

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

What it is:  A look back from the 25th century on the Great Collapse which occurred in 2093, brought on by decades of failure to act on climate change and general political intractability.

How I'm liking it so far:  This has been a bit of a disappointment, honestly.  A slim volume by the authors of the much more famous Merchants of Doubt (a nonfictional work about the corporate scientists who are hired to obfuscate research on climate change), I went in knowing this was a story with a point to make.  I was also expecting the narrative device (that this is a history book from the future) to hold up, though, and over halfway though... it really hasn't.  Too often, it feels like lip service is being paid to the premise, in favor of shoehorning in more statistics or message-sending.

Recommendation:  Although the subject matter is both important and well-researched, this doesn't hold up as a work of fiction, and there are much more comprehensive works of nonfiction on the same subject.  Still, its brevity and the summary hook might make this worth recommending to someone who wouldn't otherwise read a book about climate change at all.

God's Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican, by Gerald Posner

What it is:  A look at the Catholic church's monetary history, detailing the often byzantine, sometimes shady dealings of one of the world's largest financial organizations.

How I'm liking it so far:  I'm not very far into this extremely dense book (about 700 pages, including 150 pages of detailed notes), but so far it's pretty interesting.  Posener takes great pains to make this a book that isn't about religion (sometimes to the point of protesting too much), but instead is about power and finance, and how a monolithic organization with little oversight deals with both.  Then again, I think finance is interesting, at least as a dabbler.  Regardless, this story combines often-salacious material (the first chapter starts with a murder that's almost literally a Masonic conspiracy) with meticulously researched and incredibly thorough detail at every turn.

Recommendation:  This may not be light reading, but it's still pretty accessible; folks with an interest in the subject and looking for something with a bit of heft will probably want to check it out.

The Damned Busters, by Matthew Hughes

What it is:  Chesney Anstruther accidentally summons a demon and, in doing so, inadvertently brings all of Hell to a grinding halt.  This turns out not to be a particularly positive development.

How I'm liking it so far:  So, here's the thing: that description actually only covers the first quarter of the book or so--and I thought that it (the book, through that part) was hilarious, combining a ridiculous premise with a matter-of-fact storytelling style, and some rather fun swipes at religion and (more often) the people who practice it.  But after that first quarter, the book goes in a completely different direction: it becomes a superhero comedy.  That part's still both funny and well-written, but I'm finding it far less interesting than the earlier going (not to mention that "Hell stopping" getting resolved happened awfully fast) so far.  It might yet grow on me, or come back to the theological comedy, though; I'm not far enough to be sure.

Recommendation:  Without knowing what the general focus is going to be for the rest of the story, it's hard to recommend too enthusiastically.  Still, the first hundred pages or so were hilarious "dry fiction;" honestly, the book's worth starting just for that, even if the rest ends up falling apart.

The Book of Wonder, by Lord Dunsany

What it is:  A collection of short stories by a 19th (and early 20th) century Irish author.

How I'm liking it so far:  This is a re-read for me, inspired by a certain ponyfic I read recently.  The short stories which make up this collection are mostly somewhere between "fantasy" and "original folklore," which is a space I've always enjoyed, and Dunsany's flowery descriptions paint scenes and creatures wonderfully.  Despite his penchant for untranslated Greek and Latin, the stories are very accessible as well; I was able to enjoy them as a child, and although looking up a few phrases and words enhances the experience, the stories can easily be read without the same.

Recommendation:  Since these are public domain, you can get all the stories online; you'll miss out on the medieval-style illustrations if you do, though, and I think they add a lot.  Regardless, you can try reading my favorite first, and see if it's to your taste.


  1. Dunsany is wunnerful! By an interesting coincidence, I'm working on an illuminated edition of The Dreamer's Tales at the moment:

  2. I really wasn't that impressed by The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future. It's more of a fat pamphlet than a book, and it seems to be a straight recitation of every global warming panic prophet announcement ever. For entertainment, Fallen Angels has a better technological grasp on the issue of rapid climate change, although from the other side.

    A friend of ours had a T-shirt once with a picture of the continents with staples all over them and the logo "Stop Continental Drift" that made more sense.

    1. My favorite book on the subject was State of Fear, though I haven't read anything regarding climate change in several years