Recent Reading: Historicals, Monsters, and DNA

Been doing a lot of reading of late; here are some capsule reviews.

Black Chamber, by S. M. Stirling. This is a WWI-era spy novel set in an alternate America in which Teddy Roosevelt was elected instead of Taft and was able to implement his progressive policies with a free hand. It’s got airships, submarines, handsome evil Germans (but no Nazis), and a femme fatale, Luz O’Malley Aróstegui, who takes the battle to Germany. The background is amazingly and thoroughly detailed; Stirling did his research on this one. A little more sex than I like, but a gripping read from one end to the other.

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, by David Reich. It turns out that the history of the human species is far more complicated than anyone had guessed, and in surprising ways. Reich is a geneticist specializing in the study of ancient DNA; much of the research was done in his laboratory. Fair warning: some of the paragraphs regarding their experimental procedures are quite exceedingly dry; I confess I skimmed them to get on to the conclusions. With that caveat, though, I found this to be a fascinating book. Rule of thumb: things get more complicated when you look closely, not less.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Saints, by Larry Correia and John Ringo. This is the last book in a delightful trilogy beginning with Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge, and the trilogy itself is part of Correia’s larger “Monster Hunter International” series. The Monster Hunter books are a lot of fun; and Ringo’s contributions are somehow more fun than par. But don’t start with this one; start with Grunge or with the first book in the series, Monster Hunter International.

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, by Gerd Gigerenzer. A friend recommended this as a more rigorous take on the topic of Malcom Gladwell’s Blink. I enjoyed it but can’t completely recommend it, as I found myself arguing with the author on almost every page, and certainly in every chapter. The author habitually contrasts gut reactions and intuition with reason, to reason’s detriment; the trouble is, by “reason” he means modern propositional logic, a field that corresponds to only a small part of the human faculty of reason as it was understood by Aristotle or the Scholastics. Virtually everything he discusses is in fact perfectly reasonable and rational by the older definitions of “reason”. On the other hand, he isn’t wrong; it’s one of those cases where I find myself agreeing with the conclusions and disagreeing with the categories. It’s an interesting book if you’re interested in this sort of thing.

A Famine of Horses, by P.F. Chisolm. This delightful book is a mystery novel set on the Anglo-Scottish border in the days of Queen Elizabeth I, and concerns one Sir Robert Carey, newly appointed Deputy Warden of the English West March. The border in those days was a lawless place of horse and cattle thieves and protection rackets in which the Grahams, the Armstrongs, the Elliots, and other “surnames” fought, rustled, and feuded and moved from one side of the border to the other to escape the heat. It’s a milieu I’d encountered before, in George MacDonald Fraser’s excellent non-fiction work The Steel Bonnets, and Chisolm quite brings it to life. Recommended.

photo credit: Gael Varoquaux Books via photopin (license)

2 thoughts on “Recent Reading: Historicals, Monsters, and DNA

  1. I assume you’ve read Correira’s Grimmoire series. I like it better than Monster Hunters. I love when people I know from history pop up in a well-researched alternate history world. For anyone else thinking of trying it, the first chapter is free on Baen’s website, but the viewpoints in the chapter differ in several important values from the viewpoints of the protagonists.


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