#ReadPOC2021 — February: By a Scientist

So, finding something that interests me for February is going to be a tough one. Scientists that fit the bill are seriously under-represented. Or I am very oblivious, take your pick. I am leaning towards space and the universe at large, natural history, Earth‘s history, the oceans, … I suppose it could be a memoir or biography of a scientist falling under the BIPOC heading.

What is this challenge, you ask? My original post is here. For an explanation and the general rules please go to the actual webpage of the challenge, hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media.

Back to February. I have been meaning to read something by Neil deGrasse Tyson for a while. Or maybe get an audiobook. I would like to listen to him narrating it himself though, which does not give me a lot of options. It would mean reading either Astrophysics for People in a Hurry or Letters from an Astrophysicist. That one sounds like fun. They are both fairly short though.

In my search of other authors I came across this list: Finding My Climate-Conscious Tribe: Black Nature Lovers and Writers. PlanetWalker (2005) by environmentalist John Francis looks interesting. From the book blurb:

“When the struggle to save oil-soaked birds and restore blackened beaches left him feeling frustrated and helpless, John Francis decided to take a more fundamental and personal stand—he stopped using all forms of motorized transportation. Soon after embarking on this quest that would span two decades and two continents, the young man took a vow of silence that endured for 17 years. It began as a silent environmental protest, but as a young African-American man, walking across the country in the early 1970s, his idea of “the environment” expanded beyond concern about pollution and loss of habitat to include how we humans treat each other and how we can better communicate and work together to benefit the earth.“

Another interesting list: Celebrating Black Environmentalists during Black History Month. I ended up browsing cooking books though, which is not really what I was looking for… Still, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty sounds good. I am really tempted, after browsing through the preview. From the book blurb:

“Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.“

And several other lists and blog posts lead me to Lauret Savoy and her book Trace. From the book blurb:

“Through personal journeys and historical inquiry, this PEN Literary Award finalist explores how America’s still unfolding history and ideas of “race” have marked its people and the land.“

“A provocative and powerful mosaic that ranges across a continent and across time, from twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault zone to a South Carolina plantation, from national parks to burial grounds, from “Indian Territory” and the U.S.–Mexico Border to the U.S. capital, Trace grapples with a searing national history to reveal the often unvoiced presence of the past.“

Still, those three books are more memoirs and histories than something I would lump under the heading scientific non-finction. So, I am stumped. I am open to suggestions!

The prompt and page for January is here: Books by Women of Color to Read for #ReadPOC2021.

Miss Evolution at work…

Nachrichten aus einem unbekannten Universum: Eine Zeitreise durch die Meere
by Frank Schätzing

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Schätzing usually writes SciFi thrillers, so this non-fiction was a detour, albeit into the realm dealing with the universe at large. There is a speculative element in these „news from an unknown universe“. He takes us on a tour from the Big Bang to the near future. Schätzing calls this „Humans and the oceans, a peculiar relationship, marked by love, hate, ignorance and romanticism.“ He shows us how oceans work and life evolved and where all this water came from in the first place. Why evolution took the route it took. We get a look at the mechanics of the Gulf stream, the movements of tectonic plates, the structure of the world‘s oceans and their inhabitants, to the creation of waves, how our moon came to be, its effects on our planet, to the evolution of bacteria, plankton, bigger fish and whales and ultimately the struggles our seas are facing today. „Miss Evolution“ is the driving force in this book.

I am not a fan of Schätzing‘s flippant tone and his habit of anthropomorphising everything. I understand that he wants to make this entertaining and fun for the reader. But I found it annoying, his assigning of all kinds of human emotions and motives to sponges, fish and whatever appeared on the page, usually with a comical comment at the end of a paragraph or chapter. And Miss Evolution ticked me off.

The book is nicely done, with unusual page layouts and nice illustrations and photos. I struggled a bit with the odd black pages with white print. The contrast was crap and I had a hard time with the small and dense font already anyway.

I didn‘t learn a lot of new things, however this is a nice primer into our evolution, Earth‘s geological history and the development of life in the oceans. So, if you‘re looking for some pop-science with a funny writing style and don‘t mind the anthropomorphising, this might be for you.

As alien as it can get on this Earth

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (Audible Audio)
by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Not what I expected, aka a somewhat amusing popscience piece about octopuses. Instead this started with a fairly thorough account of the Ediacaran era and biota, followed by the Cambrian Explosion. One of these days I might even manage to memorize the timeline! Fairly challenging stuff, when listening to an audiobook.

Then we cover different topics—the arms race between predators and their prey, the evolution of the eye, the question what signifies intelligence, and so on and so forth… The chapter about Inner Speech was fascinating. Making Colours was a very interesting chapter as well. I hadn‘t know that octopuses can‘t see colours the way we do. The last chapter, Octopolis, reminded me very strongly of Children of Ruin (Children of Time #2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Who took inspiration from this book, I believe.

As mentioned, this was not what I expected, namely a book strictly talking about the evolution of octopuses. I liked it, but at times it was off on unexpected tangents, instead of concentrating on my reason for reading this. If the scientific or philosophical discourse of the chapter I was in at any given point wasn‘t gripping me, I just bided my time until the main act made an appearance again. Nonetheless, I was entertained. And I learned new things.

The audiobook narration was done well. However, the more complicated parts of this narrative probably escaped me a bit. It would probably be worth getting a print version, to be able to go over parts of it more easily again. And I assume there are photos and illustrations… 

My review of Children of Ruin is here….

Hit or miss with Frank Schätzing

by Frank Schätzing

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I give up on Limit—my first cleaning act of 2021. I will toss the book into the flea market flap of my local library. I struggled (and skimmed) to page 73 and feel no interest in trying any further. I know that many readers will find it unfair that I am giving a rating after reading so little of this doorstopper, but what I read really annoyed me. I understand that very long books require a certain set-up of people and storylines, but I really couldn’t warm up to anything in these first 73 pages and had to constantly look up the eight-page register of people to be able to follow the red thread. The characters were all completely interchangeable.

Sorry, but I’d rather read three books of average length that I enjoy more. Pity, really. Because I liked this one well enough, when I read it in 2005 (or thereabouts):

Der Schwarm / The Swarm
by Frank Schätzing

A fisherman disappears near the coast of Peru. Without a trace. Norwegian oil drilling experts discover strange organisms, covering hundreds of square kilometers of sea floor. Whales along the coasts of British Columbia change their behaviour. None of this seems to be connected. But biologist Sigur Johanson does not believe in coincidences. And wale expert Leon Anawak draws disturbing conclusions. A catastrophy seems unavoidable. The search for the cause of all this becomes their worst nightmare.

Very long, very good – I liked the first part with the build-up of all the action better than the latter part, but won’t tell you why. I don’t want to give any of the storyline away. Would make a great blockbuster, a bit like “The Day After Tomorrow”, but this time animals strike instead of the weather… Creepy. Suspenseful.

I am currently also reading through this:

Nachrichten aus einem unbekannten Universum: Eine Zeitreise durch die Meere (Hardcover) / News from an Unknown Universe
by Frank Schätzing

I am not reading every word, but rather browse through the chapters, dipping in deeper here or there where something catches my interest.

I am not a fan of Schätzing‘s flippant tone and his habit of antropomorphizing everything. I understand that he wants to make this entertaining and fun for the reader. However, I am only 70 pages in and already rolling my eyes every time Miss Evolution shows up. WTF? 

50 classic German authors

50 Klassiker: Deutsche Schriftsteller von Grimmelshausen bis Grass
by Joachim Scholl

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I was at an open-air theater performance in Tübingen recently. The piece was from Hölderlin and I realized that I know virtually nothing about one of Germany‘s most important poets. So I got this reference book and a short biography about Hölderlin at the library. The biography I put down again pretty quickly. This collection of essays about important German authors was quite entertaining. Each author is covered in a biography of three to five pages, mixed up with portraits of the author, photos of his home or family, a few quotes and summary of the most important work. Each entry was finished with a one-pager for the hurried reader, boiling down the biography to the essentials, offering a short rating and further reading recommendations.

You know what is the most frustrating thing about this book referencing the 50 most important German authors? They are all men. In the introduction the author announces a separate edition for female authors. Why a separate edition? And where is it, 13 years after this one here was published?

Let me give you some examples of female German-language authors that did indeed have an impact on literature:

– Bettina von Arnim (*1785-1859)
– Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (*1797–1848)
– Ricarda Huch (*1864-1947 ), nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature seven times
– Else Lasker-Schüler (*1869–1945)
– Anna Seghers (*1900-1983)
– Ingeborg Bachmann (*1926 in Austria-1973) 
– Christa Wolf (*1929-2011)

Further reading in German:
– Auch ein Land der Dichterinnen und Denkerinnen, https://www.54books.de/auch-ein-land-…

You are welcome!

Back to this book… informative, well-written. The one-pager was printed with black type on a red background, which made for bad contrast and was not easy to read. I am knocking off a star for that and another one for the male bias.

One of Hölderlin‘s most famous poems:

Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm´ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde ?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.

Half of Life

With its yellow pears
And wild roses everywhere
The shore hangs into the lake,
O gracious swans,
And drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
In the sobering holy water.

Ah, where will I find
Flowers, come winter,
And where the sunshine
And shade of the earth ?
Walls stand cold
And speechless, in the wind
The wheathervanes creak.

Hölderlin’s poems in English translation

July 2020 Wrap-Up

My July 2020:

BR novels:
– Limit, BR with Dennis, TBR challenge, ongoing & carry-over into August
– The Traitor Baru Cormorant, BR, ongoing & carry-over into August

– Dragonflight, as part of The Dragonriders of Pern, ★★★★☆, in the beginning there was a queen‘s dragon egg… Who wants to continue with this series?
– The City We Became, June SF GR, audible, ★★☆☆☆, not for me.

Solo reads:
– Lullaby for a Lost World, short, ★★★★★, magic comes at a high price. Vengeance!
– Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, HarryPotterAtHome, read by various actors (https://www.wizardingworld.com/chapters), TBR challenge (most reviews/highest ratings), ★★★★☆, #HarryPotterAtHome
– Dwarf Stars 2020, poetry, ★★★★☆, SF poems of 10 lines or less.
– Grace Immaculate, short, ★★★★☆, first contact via SETI, alien aliens…
– Wohllebens Waldführer: Tiere & Pflanzen bestimmen, das Ökosystem entdecken, nonfiction, ★★★★☆, easy guide about 250 species of plants and animals in central Europe.
– David‘s Head, in Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 156, ★★★★☆, short story about a roadtrip with an AI
– 2389, ★★★☆☆, space horror brain candy.
– Das Seelenleben der Tiere: Liebe, Trauer, Mitgefühl – erstaunliche Einblicke in eine verborgene Welt, nonfiction, ★★★☆☆, the inner life of animals, pop science.

Comics, aka my guilty pleasure:
– Skyward #13, ★★★☆☆
– Skyward #14, ★★★☆☆
– Skyward #15, ★★★½☆, the end!
– Ascender #6, ★★★★☆
– Ascender #7, ★★★★½
– Sea of Stars #1, ★★★½☆
– Black Science #1, ★★☆☆☆, Lost in Space, travelling other dimensions.

Wanted to read, but didn‘t:
– Unconquerable Sun, BR, wasn‘t that interested anymore
– Ascender, Vol. 2: The Dead Sea, #8, 9 & 10, plan to read it eventually…

Skyward #13 by Joe Henderson Skyward #14 by Joe Henderson Skyward #15 by Joe Henderson Ascender #6 by Jeff Lemire Ascender #7 by Jeff Lemire Sea of Stars #1 by Jason Aaron Black Science #1 by Rick Remender 
Dragonflight (Pern Dragonriders of Pern, #1) by Anne McCaffrey Dwarf Stars 2020 by Robin Mayhall Grace Immaculate by Gregory Benford Wohllebens Waldführer Tiere & Pflanzen bestimmen, das Ökosystem entdecken by Peter Wohlleben 2389 by Iain Rob Wright Lullaby for a Lost World by Aliette de Bodard 
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Harry Potter, #1) by J.K. Rowling Das Seelenleben der Tiere Liebe, Trauer, Mitgefühl - erstaunliche Einblicke in eine verborgene Welt by Peter Wohlleben Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 156 by Neil Clarke 

Plans for August:
I am in the middle of several things that I need to finish. Plus there is a vague committment to read Shark Week related stuff… 😝

The inner life of animals…

Das Seelenleben der Tiere: Liebe, Trauer, Mitgefühl – erstaunliche Einblicke in eine verborgene Welt

(The Mysteries of Nature Series #2)

by Peter Wohlleben,  Peter Kaempfe (Narrator)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Do animals have emotions? Do fish feel pain? How intelligent are pigs? Can animals lie? And more. Nothing deeply scientific, more of an entertaining pop science primer, interspersed with humourous anecdotes. Each emotion gets an entry with several examples of different animals and how they could feel and what researchers have to say about it. The books culminates in the question if animals can think and solve abstract problems. And if animals have a soul. And if they do, can there be a life after death for them? Seriously?

It was mildly interesting in parts, but pretty shallow, a bit monotonous and with a very repetitive structure. Ultimately I was underwhelmed, I expected more.

Into the woods

Wohllebens Waldführer: Tiere & Pflanzen bestimmen, das Ökosystem entdecken
by Peter Wohlleben

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Easy guide about 250 species of plants and animals in central Europe forests.

Interessant, wenn auch recht oberflächlich. Ich habe was gelernt! Eine Mischung aus Wald-Basisinfo und Bestimmungsbuch.

Ich wußte zum Beispiel nicht, das Dammhirsche keine europäische Art sind und in unseren Wäldern durchaus nicht zu unterschätzenden Schaden anrichten.

Und es gibt eine Menge witzig aussehender Käfer, von denen ich noch nie gehört habe, geschweige denn das ich sie schon mal gesehen hätte.

Am interessantesten fand ich schlußendlich die Infos über importierte Arten und ihre Vor- und Nachteile.


Anderland: Die USA unter Trump - ein SchadensberichtAnderland: Die USA unter Trump – ein Schadensbericht by Ingo Zamperoni
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interessant, mit nützlichen Denkanstößen und einigen neuen Erkenntnissen. Wenn man sich abseits der üblichen Berichterstattung über Trump, seine Politik und deren Auswirkungen informieren möchte, ist dieses Buch ein guter Anfang.

Nicht so packend, wie ich es gehofft hatte. Ein großer Teil des Buches war eine nicht enden wollende Aneinanderreihung von Anekdoten. Der Punkt, der da gemacht werden wollte, ließ oft ziemlich auf sich warten. Daher habe ich in der zweiten Hälfte des Buches relativ viel schräg gelesen.

Nichtsdestotrotz, interessant genug um vielleicht irgendwann ein weiteres Buch von Ingo Zamperoni in die Hand zu nehmen.

View all my reviews