Book Review: Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks


Musicophilia (2007) by Oliver Sacks tells the stories of people with neurological conditions that involve music, and a study of the human brain and music in general.  The book relies largely on case studies of Sacks’ patients and others in the annals of medical literature, and more uniquely on Sacks’ own experiences.  Cases include people who have musical hallucinations more powerful and persistent than the ordinary earworm,  people with physical and neurological disorders who excel at music, and the unique role of music in therapy.

I found the book repetitive both within itself and to the previous Sacks’ book I’ve read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.  It’s as if Sacks just keeps piling on examples of the same or similar disorders without really coming to a conclusion or a big picture.  I guess I expected more from this book, and Sacks certainly has fascinating stories to share, but I think he needs a ghost writer.

Musicophilia unabridged library edition by Oliver Sacks. Books on Tape (2007), Audio CD

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Beer Review: Samuel Adams Blackberry Witbier


Beer: Samuel Adams Blackberry Witbier
Brewer:  Boston Beer Company
Source:  12 oz. bottle
Rating: ** (6.3 of 10)
Comments: Continuing my fruity beer kick, I sampled the “local brewery’s” latest from the Brewmaster’s Colletion.  The blackberries (which the label informs us are from Oregon) are sweet but subtle.  A strong and alluring spiciness is the dominant flavor.  This is a crisp, smooth beer, that’s definitely worth trying when you want something a little different

Beer Review: Wachusett Blueberry Ale


Beer: Wachusett Blueberry Ale
Brewer: Wachusett Brewing Company
Source:  12 oz. bottle
Rating: ** (6.9 of 10)
Comments:  I confess, I like fruity beers, and this is one of the better ones I’ve encountered.  The blueberry aroma and flavor is quite apparent but it’s good that it is a real blueberry aroma/flavor, not artificial.  Appearance-wise it looks like a very pale lager beer with lots of big bubbles, but it tastes good so I guess there’s a decent beer under all that blueberry.  I should review the draft version of Wachusett Blueberry served at Dogwood Cafe where it’s topped off with actual blueberries floating in the glass.

Beer Review: Brooklyn Lager


A beer from the city of my paternal ancestors (but quaffed in Boston).

Beer: Brooklyn Lager
Brewer: Brooklyn Brewery
Source: Draught
Rating: ** (6.4 of 10)

Comments:  This is a dark, bubbly beer without much noticable aroma.  It tastes hoppy and fruity with a good balance and nice finish.  This is a decent beer that I won’t go out of my for, but definitely think it’s worth drinking where it’s available.

Book Review: Lincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills


My annual Lincoln Day book for 2009 is Lincoln at Gettysburg (1992) by cultural historian Garry Wills (previously, I’ve read Wills’ works on Catholicism Why I’m A Catholic and Papal Sin).  In this book Wills sets out to analize the 272 words spoken by Lincoln when he consecrated the Gettysburg National Cemetery on November 19, 1863.  In a prologue, Wills sums up the events of Lincoln’s visit to Gettysburg.  Here he debunks some common myths.  Lincoln did not write his speech on the back of the envelope en route to Gettysburg.  In fact, Lincoln loathed extemporaneous speech and spent much time preparing his words including this speech which he probably drafted prior to leaving Washington.  The other myth is that the crowds were shocked by the brevity of Lincoln’s remarks especially in comparison to the lengthy oration by Edward Everett.  According to the programs and contemporary accounts, Everett was the primary speaker of the day with Lincoln only expected to make a few ancillary remarks to officially dedicate the cemetery.

It’s what Lincoln made of those few remarks that Wills dedicates the rest of the book to explicating.  Wills sees Lincoln’s funeral oratory in the tradition of Greek Revival then in vogue.  Lincoln’s address is compared favorably to the tradition of the ancients such as Pericles in that it contrasts things  as the mortal and immortal, the exceptionalism of Americans, word and deed, and life and death. The culture of death in 19th-century American – and especially during the Civil War (see This Republic of Suffering for more detail) – also informs the Gettysburg Address.  Cemeteries such as Mt. Auburn in Cambridge served a moral and instructive role and Gettysburg National Cemetery would fit into that continiuum.

For Lincoln, of course, that lesson is “the new birth of freedom” passed down to us from the Declaration of Indpendence.  Lincoln saw the Declaration as the nation’s true founding document,as opposed to the Constitution, as it holds the promise of equality for all in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  He also sees that through the revolution and joint declaration of independence the states are bound as a union, not as a simple agreement among autonomous states.  This informs the way in which Lincoln pursues the war treating the Southern states as insurrectionists within the union as opposed to a foreign power and only resorting to emancipation where it is a military necessity since he believes it cannot be done by unilateral decree.  The Gettysburg Address has resulted in many if not most Americans viewing the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Union the way that Lincoln did:

“…the professors, the textbooks, the politicians, the press have overwhelmingly accepted Lincoln’s vision.  The Gettysburg Address has become an authoritative expression of the American spirit — as authoritative as the Declaration itself, and perhaps even more influential, since it determines how we read the Declaration.  For most people now, the Declaration means what Lincoln told us it means, as a way of correcting the Constitution itself without overthrowing it.  It is this correction of the spirit, this intellectual revolution, that makes attempts to go back beyond Lincoln so feckless.  The proponents of states’ rights may have arguments, but they have lost their force, in courts as well as in the popular mind.  By accepting the Gettysburg Address, its concept of a single people dedicated to a proposition, we have been changed.  Because of it, we live in a different America.” – p. 146-47

The final chapter analyzes Lincoln’s oratorial style, its brevity, rhythmns, and lack of flowery language and tropes common to speech writing of the time (see Everett’s speech in the appendices for a contrasting example).  Writes Wills, “Hemingway claimed that all modern American novels are the offspring of Huckleberry Finn.  It is no greater exaggeration to say that all modern political prose descends from the Gettysburg Address,” (p. 148).  In fact Wills contends that Lincoln prefigured “soundbite politics” by more than a century by crafting his words to meet the needs of the new technology of the telegraph.  Perhaps the satirical Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation is more on the mark than its creators intended.

This shorts but incisive book concludes with appendices that include research on the actual text that Lincol delivered that day.  There are multiple drafts and the newspaper accounts of the day are not all in agreement.  The Library of Congress has a good online exhibit of the many drafts of the address, as well as the only picture of Lincoln of that day.  There are also the full text of Everett’s oration and two ancient Greek forebearers (I confess I skipped these).  Finally, there’s a little detective work on where Lincoln actually stood to deliver the Gettysburg Address.  All and all, a fascinating a rewarding read for Lincoln Day ’09!

Title Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Re-Made America
Author Garry Wills
Publication Simon & Schuster (1992), Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication date 1992
ISBN 0671769561 / 9780671769567

Book Review: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs


Jane Jacobs is cited in an inordinate number of books I’ve read in the past few years (including Emergence by Steven Johnson) and I’m very interested in the way cities work, so it was natural for me to read The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961).  In some ways, it is the book that seems to summarize many things that I’ve long felt about why cities are important, what makes them great, and how “city planning” gets it so wrong.  It’s amazing that this book was written almost 50 years ago describing the decay of cities that projects and city planning inflicted, not just because that things had already gone down hill at such an early date but that even with Jacobs’ evocative warning, the ideas of city planning continue to be followed to this day!

I’ll have to say there’s a lot I learned from this book.  Jacobs seems to have a knack for understanding how the sidewalks and a neighborhood work, kind from an anthropological perspective, but almost also from an engineering perspective.  She can take things we take for granted apart and see how they tick.  Jacobs also understands the factors that create diversity from which good cities draw their strength and vitality.  These are, and none of them are optional:

1) mixed primary uses (such as commercial storefronts, residences, and landmarks organically mixed together.

2) small blocks (that break monotony, allow for greater commercial enterprise, and prevent isolation by allowing more people to circulate together)

3) aged buildings (again prevents the monotony of projects all built at once in the same style as well as being incubators for ventures that can afford their low rent.

4) concentration (that is a dense number of people living, working, shopping, and visiting an area with activity of some sort throughout the day.  Density is a good thing for a neighborhood as opposed to overcrowding which is a very bad thing for a building).

Jacobs cites many examples of cities & neighborhoods that work due to the conditions above as well as how city planning theorists have contributed to the destruction of diversity and the decline of cities.  Interestingly, parks – things that even I thought were good – are an example of bad city planning when they are constructed to be a virtue in themselves as opposed to part of a diverse city.  Some of the worst slums in America have plentiful park space, but Jacobs explains that these parks create borders to neighborhoods and become vacuums that are underutilized and dangerous.  On the other hand, Jacobs does not put much blame on the automobile, since the city planning theories she opposes arose at the same time as the automobile and she contends one did not influence the development of the other.  There is a place for cars in cities, but a diverse neighborhood would cause a natural attrition of the great numbers of cars that damage a city and allow a more beneficial balance.

In the later chapters, Jacobs proposes many alternate tactics to how people who love cities can work to create diversity.  These include subsidizing dwellings instead of projects, attrition of automobiles, visual order, and reorganizing city government to create leadership that works together within a district.  I know of no examples in which Jacobs suggestions were tried, but they seem to be good ideas that would be worth trying even today.

The death and life of great American cities / Jane Jacobs ; with a new foreword by the author.
Publisher: New York : Modern Library, 1993.
ISBN: 0679600477
Description: xxiv, 598 p. ; 20 cm.
Edition: Modern Library ed.

Beer Review: Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre


Beer: Raison D’Etre
Brewer: Dogfish Head
Source: 12 oz bottle
Rating: ** (6 of 10)
Comments:  This beer has a great punny name, but is a cute name enough to make a good beer?  It looks good colorwise, a deep reddish-brown although the head was thin and the carbonation was made up of some large bubbles instead of a gentle effervescence.   It has a fruity, caramel taste with an aftertaste a bit too bitter for my liking.  The thin head all but disappeared after a few sips. It also backs an alcholic wallop.   So, my judgement is that it’s a decent beer, but probably not one that’s going to give you a reason for being.

Beer Review: Leinenkugel’s Fireside Nut Brown


I just can’t resist the name Nut Brown Ale, especially on a snowy day.

Beer: Fireside Nut Brown
Brewer: Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
Source: 12 oz bottle
Rating: * (5.7 of 10)
Comments:  Not all Nut Browns are created equal.  This one had the earthy brown color and a musty aroma, but OMG! this beer is so sweet.  I’m just overwhelmed by the caramel sweetness and the sticky mouthfeel it leaves behind.  It’s not a bad beer otherwise, but it definitely is a stumbling block to greatness that it can’t overcome. Overly sweet seems to be a problem with Leinenkugel’s beer.  Maybe they like it that way in Wisconsin?

Book Review: Rough Crossings by Simon Schama


Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (2006) by Simon Schama (author of the excellent Dead Certainties) tells the story of people who found liberty at the time of American Revolution, but not from the Americans.  Enslaved blacks served in British regiments trading their loyalty to the king for promises of freedom (which makes this book an excellent companion to the Octavian Nothing novels).  After the war, freed blacks attempt to establish their own colonies first in Nova Scotia and then in Sierra Leone.  These efforts struggle against elements of the British government and commerce as well as internal divisions.

Schama’s work introduces a number of fascinating characters including, many of whom I previously knew little or nothing about

  • Colonel Tye — African-American Loyalist guerilla leader who had many military successes against the Continentals.
  • William Wilberforce — Member of Parliament and abolitionist who headed the effort that lead to the end of the slave trade in Britain.
  • James Ramsey — minister and abolitionist who was a prominent leader in bringing an end to the slave trade.
  • Granville Sharp — one of the earliest voices in England to take up the cause of abolition and attempt to have slavery ended by legal means.
  • Olaudah Equiano — freed blackman who became a prominent writer and speaker for abolition in Britain.
  • John Clarkson — an abolotionist along with his brother Thomas.  John acted nobly as an agent for the Sierra Leone company trying to get promises made to the black settlers fulfilled.
  • Thomas Peters — escaped slave who recruited fellow Loyalist blacks from Nova Scotia to found Sierra Leone and is remembered as a founding father of that nation.

This well-written narrative really brings alive an overlooked period in history.  I enjoyed listening to Schama himself narrate the audiobook in his lively, lilting voice. This is also the first time I’ve listened to a book as a downloadable audio file from the Boston Public Library.

Rough crossings [electronic resource] : Britain, the slaves, and the American Revolution / Simon Schama.Publisher:[New York, N.Y.] : HarperAudio, 2006.
ISBN:0061171522 (sound recording : OverDrive Audio Book) 9780061137020
Notes: Downloadable audio file.
Title from: Title details screen.
Abridged.
Duration: 11:52:30.

Book Review: Snakepit by Moses Isegawa


Set in the 1970’s during the brutal regime of Idi Amin, Snakepit (2004) by Moses Isegawa is my Around the World for a Good Book selection for Uganda.  The novel tells the story of Bat, a young man returning to Uganda after getting an education at Cambridge University.  He figures that a government job in this lawless, emerging nation will be a great way to get rich quick.  While you can’t say that the ethically-challenged Bat is naive, he is certainly unprepared for the way things in work in Uganda and over the course of the novel ends up facing a great deal of suffering at the hands of his new enemies.

The landscape of Ugandan politics and military rule include General Bazooka, Bat’s superior who has fallen out of favor with Amin.  In between orgies of sex and drugs, Bazooka tries to regain his position through intimidation, imprisonment, torture, and murder of, well, just about anyone.  While Bazooka has it out for Bat from the beginning, his main rival is the Englishman Robert Ashes who has won Amin’s affections.  Hard to believe it but Ashes is even more brutal in his methods, making Uganda his post-colonial playground.  All through the story there are gun battles on the street as various military and para-military forces abuse the citizenry and battle with one another.

This is a really unsettling book to read.  Page after page details characters stating in vulgar terms what they wish to do to their rivals and then doing it: torture, rape, murder, you name it.  Reading each page is like having someone rub your skin with a piece of sandpaper until it is raw and oozing, and turning the page is like asking them to pour lemon juice on it.  The writing style is a bit disjointed and uneven, but I guess overall it gives a sense of the rough and wild times Uganda in the 1970’s.

Author Isegawa, Moses, 1963-
Title Snakepit / Moses Isegawa.
Publication Info. New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2004.
Edition 1st ed.

Beer Review: Sevens Dark Ale


This is a beer on tap at the Sevens Ale House in Beacon Hill.

Beer: Dark Ale
Brewer:Sevens Ale House
Source: Draft
Rating: *** (7.1 of 10)

Comments: I tried this beer at the Sevens Ale House on Sunday where it is apparently the house beer, however I don’t know who does the brewing. It’s a beer with an attractive reddish/brown color but the pint I had did not have much of a head or visible carbonation. It was pleasantly bitter with a nutty aftertaste. I don’t know much about real ale, but for some reason I think this is the type of beer that may taste better at a warmer temperature. Nevertheless this was a nice old-fashioned beer appropriate to a chummy pub.

Book Review: Respect: An Exploration by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot


It’s good to give, it’s good to get.  Respect: An Exploration (2000) by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot works at understanding this crucial aspect of human relationships through the stories of six people.  Each  of these messengers works in a field where respect is vital and represents a different qualities of respect:

  • Empowerment: Jennifer Dohrn, a nurse-midwife who founded and directs a childbearing clinic in the South Bronx.
  • Healing: Johnye Ballenger, a pediatrician.
  • Dialogue: Kay Cottle, a middle and high school teacher.
  • Curiosity: Dawoud Bey, a photographer/artist.
  • Self-Respect: David Wilkins, a law professor.
  • Attention: Bill Wallace, pastoral therapy to the dying in hospice.

Each portrait is part interview, part Lawrence-Lightfoot’s observations of that person at work, and part biography.  The case study method lends itself to a bit of cheesiness, but not too much, and not in a negative fashion.

I find it hard to summarize the book any further as it is through the interplay of these many factors where respect is teased out.  Read it yourself to find out.

Respect: An Exploration by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. Basic Books (2000), Edition: 1, Paperback, 256 pages

Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini


A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) by Khaled Hosseini is a novel set in modern day Afghanistan which by definition means it will be tragic.  It tells the story of two women against the backdrop of war with the Soviet Union, the mujahideen, the rise and fall of the Taliban, and the American invasion of 2001. Part I tells the story of Mariam who is born out-of-wedlock to a wealthy businessman and his maid and grows up on the outskirts of a provincial town.  Weekly visits from her father are a joy in Mariam’s lonely life but as a teenager incidents portrayed in the book lead Mariam to become disillusioned with her father and lose her mother to suicide.  Part II tells the story of Laila, raised in Kabul and encouraged to get an education by her progressive father.  As civil war begins to tear Afghanistan apart, Laila falls in love with her childhood friend Tariq. Unfortunately, Laila’s mother’s misguided devotion to the mujahideen means that Laila’s family are unable to flee until it’s too late.

As a result of the tragic events in their lives, both Mariam and Laila find themselves forced to marry Rasheed, an older man and shoemaker with traditionalist expectations of his wives.  Things are tense between the two women at first, but their shared suffering at the hands of Rasheed bring them together in friendship, and soon in love.  Soon Mariam, Laila, and Laila’s two children are a family under the repressive Taliban regime.  At the end of Part III, Mariam makes the ultimate sacrifice to enable a happier future for Laila and the children.  Unfortunately, Part IV tries to make too tidy of an ending to this story.  I mean we want good things to happen to these characters but at the same time the all-too-perfect resolution is at odds with the gritty realism of the rest of the narrative.

Author Hosseini, Khaled.
Title A thousand splendid suns [sound recording] / Khaled Hosseini.
Publication Info. New York : Simon & Schuster Audio, p2007.
Edition Unabridged.
Description 11 sound discs (12 hr.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.

Book Review: Brisingr by Christopher Paolini


Brisingr (2008) is the third volume in Christopher Paolini‘s Inheritance Cycle following up on Eragon and Eldest.  Since I’m not a regular reader of fantasy novels, I was a bit disappointed that Paolini decided to extend this series from three to four books, meaning I will be compelled to read yet another fantasy novel in the future.  This volume particularly is not a stand alone book and really is a series of episodes connecting together books 2 & 4.  I get the sense that if Paolini could go back to the begining and write the whole thing all over again that he would be able to get some of this detail in earlier and tighten up the cycle a bit.  That said I think this book was necessary as it really develops the characters with satisfying detail.  If Brisingr lacks a bit in the action department (or at least one coherent action narrative), I expect it will be rewarding in how it sets up the (hopefully) final volume.

Author Paolini, Christopher.
Title Brisingr, or, The seven promises of Eragon Shadeslayer and Saphira Bjartskular / Christopher Paolini.
Publication Info. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2008.
Edition 1st ed.
Description xix, 763 p. : map ; 24 cm.

Book Review: Freeman Walker by David Allan Cates


I read Freeman Walker (2008) by David Allan Cates on the tails of completing The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, both of which feature young men in slavery in extraordinary situations, but their tales diverge rapidly from that similarity.  The life story narrated by Jimmy Gates, later to rename himself Freeman Walker, tells of a boy born to a slave mother and her master.  At 7, Jimmy is freed and sent to school in England.  When his father dies, Jimmy finds himself in a workhouse in London.  Returning to America in the midst of the Civil War, our protagonist joins a Union brigade, is captured and returned to slavery and is only able to regain freedom by participating in an atrocity.

The rest of the novel is something of a meditation on this sullied freedom as Freeman Walker heads west to the lawless gold rush country.  There he finds himself increasingly bizarre situations supporting Irish revolutionary come Civil War colonel come Territorial Governor Cornelius O’Keefe in his efforts to bring civilization and justice to the west.  Late in the book, a certain element of magical realism descends upon the book with Walker himself deciding he’s a faerie.

It’s a compelling, but odd book, which kind of misses the mark for me. It just seems like it should be better than it is.

Freeman Walker by David Allan Cates. Unbridled Books (2008), Hardcover, 304 pages

Beer Review: Hofbräu Dunkel


Here’s a beer that had me singing “In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus.”

Beer: Hofbräu Dunkel
Brewer: Hofbräu München
Source: 12 Fl. Oz. Bottle
Rating: *** (7.8 of 10)

Comment:  Hard to believe that it’s been five years since I visited Munich and I’m still trying to recapture beer nirvana here at home.  This dark beer has a nice chestnut color and a thick head like sea foam.  The aroma gives off a sweet, caramel scent.  The taste is more bitter though with a roasted flavor and a strong aftertaste.  After a few sips the head is still fairly thick and leaves behind some Brussels Lace.  Not bad!

Book Review: Trawler by Redmond O’Hanlon


Trawler (2003) by Redmond O’Hanlon is one of those books where a novice goes on board a commercial fishing boat to see how hard life is for the trawlermen and finds it hard in ways one never imagined.  No big surprise there, but what O’Hanlon does in this book is write almost entirely in dialogue rather than description.  This means that O’Hanlon either brought on board a recording device or has a photographic memory for conversation.  Either way it’s remarkable considering that O’Hanlon spends much of the journey seasick, sleep-deprived, and unable to stay on his feet as the trawler Norlantean heads into a Force 12 hurricane.

Much of O’Hanlon’s conversation is with Luke the marine biologist conducting field studies on board the trawler.  But there is also the captain Jason, revered by his crew, and cast of tough fishermen, sometimes tight-lipped and sometimes revelatory in an almost hallucinatory way.  The discussion varies from oceanography to ichthyology, superstition and religion, masculinity to mortality, and sometimes just plain crudity.  O’Hanlon seems to make a pest of himself and gets a good bit of jibing in return.

This book not quite what I’d imagined it would be but it’s a good, solid book.

Here are some better reviews than mine:

Author O’Hanlon, Redmond, 1947-
Title Trawler / Redmond O’Hanlon.
Publication Info. New York : Vintage Books, 2006..
Edition 1st Vintage Departures ed.
Description 339 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., map ; 21 cm.

Book Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides


I’ve been wanting to read Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides since its release six years ago.  The title attracted me because I then lived in Middlesex County, but this book is not set in Massachusetts but in Michigan.  And the Middlesex of the title refers to the address of the narrator/protagonist Calliope “Cal” Stephanides’ childhood home and more wistfully to the fact that Cal is an intersexed person.  Cal was raised as a girl due to the outward appearance of femininity because of 5-alpha reductase deficiency only to discover his real biological sex as a teenager.

As a memoir-style, Eugenides’ narrative goes back further than “I was born” and traces the life of Cal’s genes back three generations.  Using a unique “first-person omniscient” narrative voice, Cal tells of her grandparents’ incestuos relationship, escape war-torn Turkey, and settlement in Prohibition-Era Detroit.  Next, there’s the story of Cal’s parents, first cousins, and their unlikely romance.  Finally  there’s Calliope’s own story.  The result is an epic, multigenerational tale of an eccentric and oddly endearing Greek-American family whose fates closesly mirror the city of Detroit.  In this novel are recounted the Burning of Smyrna and the Detroit Riots of 1968, the birth of the Nation of Islam and the pursuit of the American dream.

I enjoyed this novel immensely, the narrative voice very engaging and amusing, especially as read by Kristoffer Tabori.

Author Eugenides, Jeffrey.
Title Middlesex [sound recording] / Jeffrey Eugenides.
Publication Info. New York, NY : Audio Renaissance, p2002.
Edition Unabridged.
Description 17 sound discs (ca. 21 hrs.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.

Book Review: Where’s my jetpack? : a guide to the amazing science fiction future that never arrived by Daniel H. Wilson


We live in the 21st-Century, that magical century heralded in the past century as The Future, yet The Future has been somewhat disappointing. Where’s my jetpack? : a guide to the amazing science fiction future that never arrived (2007) by Daniel H. Wilson recounts all the great inventions promised to an eager public by science fiction, comic books, World’s Fairs, and documentaries that seemingly have never come to pass.  Wilson goes through several of these fantastic devices and describes what advances have actually been made and tells how several of them actually exist.  Albeit in less than fantastic guises or far to expensive/exclusive for the general populace.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • The jetpack, which works, just not for very long due to fuel limitations.
  • The zeppelin which once sailed elegantly through the sky until the Hindenberg disaster, but may be making a return.
  • Teleportation which is possible with particles if not with human beings.
  • Underwater hotels: one exists but it’s not very luxurious.  More luxurious hotels are in the works.
  • Anti-Sleeping pills are available under the brand name Provigil (I’m tempted to get a prescription).
  • The Space Elevator is theoretically possible and Wilson suggests we submit our plans to the Spaceward Foundation and win a prize (Hey, there’s a space elevator blog too!).
  • And a Moon Colony?  It’s in the works!

This is a fun little book with a good mix of science and humor that will appeal to anyone’s inner geek.

Author Wilson, Daniel H. (Daniel Howard), 1978-
Title Where’s my jetpack? : a guide to the amazing science fiction future that never arrived / Daniel H. Wilson ; illustrated by Richard Horne.
Publication Info. New York : Bloomsbury USA : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, c2007.
Edition 1st U.S. ed.
Description 192 p. : ill. ; 20 cm.

Book Review: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson


The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves (2008) by M.T. Anderson continues and completes the young adult Revolutionary War saga.  I read the first volume, The Pox Party, earlier this year and it was by far one of my favorite books of the year so far.  This volume picks up with Octavian escaping a death sentence and with his tutor Dr. Trefusis make it into besieged Boston.  There he is a violinist performing to entertain the British regulars.  Octavian yearns for something more and answers the call of Virginia governor Lord Dunmore who has created a Royal Ethiopian regiment for slaves of rebellious masters willing to take up arms to put down the rebellion in exchange for their freedom.

The majority of the book is in the form of Octavian’s diary (interspersed with a few letters written by other actors in this drama).  He describes the hope and optimism of slaves gaining freedom and learning to fight.  His reunion and developing relationship with the older, wiser slave Pro Bono. He tells the stories of his fellow slaves and how they made their escape.  He describes in grim detail the loss of Norfolk and the plague of smallpox the decimates the regiment.  Eventually Octavian’s spirit is all but crushed and he comes to the conclusion that Dunmore has no desire to free slaves other than for tactical purposes.

I have to admit that this book dragged at times.  There was too much verisimilitude in a day-to-day diary of the mundane life of a foot soldier.  I also admit that with the reality of Octavian’s life already established in the previous volume that it loses the unique science fiction edge and reads more like a straight-forward historical novel.  The novel does follow real historical events and recreates them in an admirable way.  Yet, and it may just be due to flashbacks of working at Colonial Williamsburg, I had trouble getting into this book.  If you enjoyed the first volume as I did, I would definitely recommend completing Octavian’s story.

Author Anderson, M. T.
Title The astonishing life of Octavian Nothing, traitor to the nation. v. #2 The kingdom on the waves / taken from accounts by his own hand and other sundry sources ; collected by M.T. Anderson of Boston.
Publication Info. Cambridge, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2008.
Edition 1st ed.
Description 561 p. : maps ; 24 cm.