Happy places.

We all have our happy places, you know where you go to just because they make you happy in some inexplicable way. In our case these places usually have a lot of books. Its not that we are obsessive when it comes to books, ok we are uber obsessive. Its not that they have to be there so we can grab them and start masticating immediately. Its just that they are there, reassuringly they are there.

A couple of days ago I was at the Humming tree, I went for a piss and a familiar face walked into the loo took the urinal next to me and said “this is my happy place”.

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Embassytown by China Mieville

Science fiction can stretch the understanding of ideas which one might never otherwise consider. In Embassytown China Mieville provides a stimulating, entertaining story of the importance of language (eat this Pinker!).

We are introduced to an alien culture which is out of sync with the way in which we humans communicate even though the common denominator for species communication is through sound. Our protagonist, Avice, was brought up in the one human town “Embassytown”-an outpost of a human-dominated world “Ariekei” which is not a very amenable place to live in.

Avice brings to light the culture of the synergy between humans and aliens by narrating certain parts of her childhood at Embassytown. Only human genetically engineered linguists (Ambassadors) can communicate with the “Extos”-aliens. Extos on the planet are screened, with an important exception, extos can only settle on Ariekei if their sociologic and genetic makeup (to communicate, to move comfortably in a human-run world & thought processes are similar enough to allow integration with humans.)

The human and exto population of Ariekei long struck a balance. They are always problems, but Embassytown is an almost disturbingly cordial society. The Hosts do their best for Ariekei, and the Ambassadors keep the peace and essentially run the society.

But when a new Ambassador arrives, the delicate balance is lost.

As with all excellent science fiction stories one might have to have two readings to be fully appreciated, first for orientation to the new world and to understand the plot, the second for the sheer delight of finding all the subtleties the author includes in the book.

If you enjoyed King Rat and Perdido Street Station you might enjoy Meivelle’s quantum leap to science fiction.

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A bit Lost by Chris Haughton

An awesomely charming and beautifully illustrated picture book charting the journey of a little owl who is ‘a bit lost’. Oops the little critter falls asleep followed by a hard landing on the ground(thump)! He has lost his mommy! All is not lost, his new friend squirrel accompanies him on his quest of for his mummy which leads him through a bunch of look-alike mummies. This brilliant book covers a basic trauma which mothers and children face while separated, followed by a blessed reunion. May you drop like a stone if you do not shed a tear with the beautiful reunion of mother and little tyke!

Only at Goobes!

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

The concept behind “The Gashlycrumb Tinies or, After the Outing,” by Edward Gorey, is brilliant in its simplicity. It consists of a series of rhymes about small children who suffer various macabre deaths. All the children have name beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, and their grim fates are arranged alphabetically by name. Each fate is also accompanied by one of Gorey’s awesome ink drawings. Sample lines: “E is for Ernest who choked on a peach. F is for Fanny sucked dry by a leech. G is for George smothered under a rug. H is for Hector done in by a thug.”

This book hilarious. Gorey’s children have a proper Victorian look to them which makes their scenarios that much more bizarre. Most of the drawings show the unfortunate children just before their deaths only a few of the pictures actually show explicit death or violence, parental guidance not required.

One could read “Gashlycrumb Tinies” as an outrageous parody of children’s books, it’s a wicked delight.

Gorey is typically described as an illustrator. The Object Lesson have earned serious critical respect as works of surrealist art. His experimentations — creating books that were wordless, books that were literally matchbox-sized, pop-up books, books entirely populated by inanimate objects — complicates matters still further. As Gorey told Richard Dyer of The Boston Globe, “Ideally, if anything [was] any good, it would be indescribable.” Gorey classified his own work as literary nonsense, the genre made most famous by Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.

In response to being called gothic, he stated, “If you’re doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there’d be no point. I’m trying to think if there’s sunny nonsense. Sunny, funny nonsense for children — oh, how boring, boring, boring. As Schubert said, there is no happy music. And that’s true, there really isn’t. And there’s probably no happy nonsense, either.”

Hrn…

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

Three central questions of philosophy and science: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why this particular set of laws and not some other? Probably the best persons to make a discussion on such matters as the celebrated University of Cambridge cosmologist Hawking (A Brief History of Time). Along with Caltech physicist Mlodinow (The Drunkard’s Walk),

Hawking uses cutting-edge physics to answer those key questions. For instance, why do we exist? Earth occupies a “Goldilocks Zone” in space: which is the perfect distance from a not-too-hot star, with the right elements to allow life to evolve.

On a grander scale, the authors write, “we need to know not only how the universe behaves, but why.” in order to explain the universe. Currently no single theory exists yet to explain this, though scientists are approaching that goal with “M-theory,” a collection of overlapping theories (string theory included) that fill in many (but not all) the blank spots in quantum physics; this collection is known as the “Grand Unified Field Theories.” We could then possibly have an explanation to the mystery of the universe’s creation without recourse to a divine creator. This is an amazingly concise, easily readable yet intriguing overview of where we stand when it comes to divining the secrets of the universe.

This book is both shorter and clearly written by Stephen Hawkings and might want to pick this up if you are interested in physics but don’t have the patience to read something long and detailed such as Roger Penrose’s “The Road to Reality”. A collection of analogies to make intuitive sense of mathematical concepts works quite well here and the authors don’t push them too far.

If you lack patience for mathematical formulas and want a short and sweet, clearly written physics book that minimizes the mathematics while still surveying the basic concepts of physics and introducing the more speculative current topics, one should check out “The Grand Design”.

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow