Years ago, I read a bit of advice in The Whole Earth Catalog, which said a great way to get up to speed on a subject you are interested in is to read a children's book about it. It's excellent advice, and I've made use of it many times over the years.
The best children's books are the ones that were published before 1970. After that, the illustrations started to get crappy, and the writing took a nosedive, too. There are exceptions, but I find it to be the rule.
Here's a winner from 1964: Why Satellites Stay in Orbit, by Sune Engelbrekston and illustrated by Lee Ames. It's a very short book that does a terrific job of explaining precisely one thing: why satellites stay in orbit. This is the kind of book an eight-year-old can read and appreciate.
I came across Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life when I took my kids to the California Science Center in Los Angeles in 2009 and found it in the gift store. It was written by philosopher Roger-Pol Droit, a researcher at the Centre de Recherche Scientifique and, as the title indicates, contains 101 mental and perceptual exercises you can perform on yourself.
In his introduction, Droit says the purpose of the experiments is to "provoke tiny moments of awareness," and to "shake a certainty we had taken for granted: our own identity, say, or the stability of the outside world, or even the meanings of words." Most of the experiments require about 20 minutes or less to complete, and often involve nothing more than merely thinking about something.
Some of the experiments you'll probably want to try when you are alone at home (like calling your name repeatedly for 20 minutes, or repeating some other word to drain it of its meaning), but others can be performed anywhere (like imagining that the world was "created from nothing, just an instant ago" and will vanish "like a light going out" in 20 minutes).
Some of the experiments you can't really plan in advance; they'll happen by accident, like when you wake up without knowing where you are -- a magical experience I love having, but Droit explains how to make the best use of this five-second-long "delicious lightness of a mystery without menace" the next time it happens: "What you do not know, for a tiny interval of time, is what the place is called, where it is, and you you are doing there. Read the rest
Here are two lists of e-books being made freely available on-line. Please add more in the comments!
This is a list of academic presses making their books and research freely available.
Jim C. Hines' list of Free and Legal Science Fiction and Fantasy
Hines has collected a list of authors providing their work online for free.
Naturally, your public library is a great resource and the Libby app is my best friend for e-books. We will also find that the public library gives incredible access to movies, music, and periodicals via the series of tubes we all know and love. Read the rest
Walker digs into deep into the backstory of her fantastic time travel series, expands greatly on the world-building and time-physics, and adds a few great characters. She also colors in the backstory that fueled the original series.
I really enjoyed Walker's YA time travel series the Chronos Files. Tough women correct the wrongs of a pretty crappy mean old man attempting to create his own Time Cult. A bit Scooby-Doo, but with excellent world-building and characters I both cared about and remember years later, this entire series is worth a binge-read.
The new book shares a lot about the birth of time travel in Walker's world, and how it works, with a fantastic adventure introducing new, wonderful characters. This isn't just more of the Chronos Files, the stories get better and better.
Happy mutants Andy Cowitt and Michael Wertz have collaborated on a song that tells the story of Golden Gate Park -- San Francisco's three-mile-long stretch of man-made natural space -- from its sandy start to "skaters on streets." It was created to coincide with the park's 150th anniversary (Saturday, April 4!) and the release of Marta Lindsey's new children's book (illustrated by Wertz), Golden Gate Park, an A to Z Adventure ($17.99).
Look at how stunning the book is!
We've covered Theodore Gray on Boing Boing a lot, and for good reason -- he's amazing. His Mad Science book was filled with spectacularly fun science experiments, he built a Periodic Table table with little compartments to hold samples of elements, and now he has a new coffee table photo book called The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe.
Each element is treated to a gorgeous two page spread, with photos and a fascinating short history.
Did you know:
... if you keep your household smoke detector around for a couple of thousand years, most of the americium will have decayed into neptunium (wait another 30 million years or so and it will become thallium, which the CIA can use to make Castro's beard fall out, if he's still alive)
... if you touch tellurium you will smell like rotten garlic for a few weeks?
... arsenic is commonly added to chicken feed (to promote their growth)?
... a chunk of gallium will melt in your hand (you can buy a sample here)?
... a speck of scandium ("the first of the elements you've never heard of") added to aluminum creates a very strong alloy (like the kind used in the Louisville Slugger that was involved in a lawsuit)?
Books that reveal how truly weird our world is are always welcome in my home. This one's a gem. Read the rest
An appropriate book for this time, Soviet-era dystopian fiction grandmasters Boris and Arkady Strugatski considered Snail On The Slope "the most perfect and the most valuable of their works."
Snail on The Slope is comprised of two separate storylines, taking place in and on the edge of The Forest. Together they paint a vivid picture of how modern society is not prepared for the future it is driving towards.
The Bureaucracy has established The Administration on the edge of The Forest. Peretz, a visiting philosopher enthralled with the idea of The Forest but unable to gain clearance to actually see it just wants to leave. Every day he is promised a ride back to civilization, but it never comes. Evicted from the hotel and with his visa revoked, Peretz is suddenly outside a system that doesn't even work when you are ensconced within.
Candide is a survivor of a crashed Administration helicopter in The Forest. Initially, he encounters villagers who appear to be current-ish era humans losing their technology, science, and civilization in a future where physics and biology are evolving faster than they are. Exploring The Forest even slightly more introduces him to new cultures he and the remnants of his humanity could not have predicted or prepared for.
I highly recommend Snail on the Slope.
(I originally reviewed this in 2008, but thought it was worth reposting, for obvious reasons. -- MF) In World Made By Hand (2008) by James Howard Kunstler, the population of the United States (and most likely, the world) has been decimated by an energy shortage, starvation, plagues, terrorism, and global warming. The story takes place in an unspecified time in the near future (I'm guessing it's around 2025 or so). Kunstler is the author of the non-fiction book The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, and World Made by Hand is a fictional account of what life might be like if things go the way he describes them in Long Emergency. (Here's a TED video of Kunstler from 2004. Thanks, Erik!)
The story is told by Robert Earle, who used to be a software executive. Now he's a hand-tool using carpenter living in a town in upstate New York without Internet, TV, or newspapers. The electricity comes on every couple of weeks for a few minutes at a time. When that happens, nothing's on the radio but hysterical religious talk. Rumors of goings-on in the rest of the world are vague.
There's no fuel or rubber tires left for cars, and even if there were, the roads and bridges are shot. Earle can't afford a horse or donkey, so when he needs to buy carpentry supplies, he takes his hand cart to a compound on the outskirts of town called Karptown. Read the rest
In Artificial Condition, Martha Well's soap opera loving rogue security AI remains cantankerous and awesome.
Murderbot is an AI security robot with a busted autonomy regulator. So long as they can keep the regulator a secret, they can remain fully aware and independent. Mostly they want to watch soap operas. Soap operas and to be left the hell alone.
I absolutely adore Murderbot. Murderbot wants quality time on their own.
In the second installment Murderbot sets out to learn about the event from which they named themselves, wherein many humans died and their AI regulator was broken. Murderbot has no direct recollection of what went on and believes this knowledge will change everything.
Murderbot teams up with an AI research ship named ART and heads off to the mining colony where it all went down.
Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, John Waters' new book, sounds like a demented must-have:
It “serves it up raw: how to fail upward in Hollywood; how to develop musical taste from Nervous Norvus to Maria Callas; how to build a home so ugly and trendy that no one but you would dare live in it; more important, how to tell someone you love them without emotional risk; and yes, how to cheat death itself. Through it all, Waters swears by one undeniable truth: ‘Whatever you might have heard, there is absolutely no downside to being famous. None at all.'”
He devotes an entire chapter in the book to dropping acid at age 70, which he describes in a recent interview with the Washington Blade:
That’s something that I did that I thoroughly enjoyed. I think if there’s a sentimental chapter in the book about friendship, then maybe that is that. If I had known how strong the LSD was that I took, I probably would have been uptight. But I didn’t and it was great. I spent eight months getting the right acid from the purest source I could find, practically from Timothy Leary’s asshole... But the provenance of it was high and it was great. I don’t have to ever do it again. Just like I don’t have to ever hitchhike across the country again. Why would I? I did it...
Chamber's second novel, A Closed and Common Orbit, in her Wayfarer series is so wonderful I cried several times.
A Closed and Common Orbit picks up immediately after Chambers' first story, Long Way to a Small and Angry Planet concludes but is barely an extension of that tale, beyond further expanding on Chambers' wonderful universe. This novel follows a newly created, but ultimately undesired, shipboard AI that is forced to leave its vessel and take up a fugitive residence in a human appearing shell.
Assisted by Pepper, a human who was genetically engineered as a slave, the AI has to find everything from a name to determining a purpose for itself. Completely out of the element for which it was designed, the AI struggles with friendships and body integrity disorder.
I cried several times.
The story alternates between that of the AI and Pepper, her human guardian. Briefly introduced as a very interesting Maz Kanata type in the first book, I wanted to learn more about Pepper. I was not disappointed, as her backstory is equally touching and tear-inducing. Genetically engineered to help sort and recycle junk, Pepper unwittingly escapes her keepers and spends years in a city-sized junkyard restoring a small spaceship.
This wonderful search for meaning and identity in a harsh, harsh world is a must-read.
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers via Amazon
Previously on Boing Boing:
P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever is a fun new alphabet book written by rapper Lushlife that shows kids just how nutty the English language really is (rules schmules!):
Turning the traditional idea of an alphabet book on its head, P is for Pterodactyl is perfect for anyone who has ever been stumped by silent letters or confused by absurd homophones. This whimsical, unique book takes silent letter entries like “K is for Knight” a step further with “The noble knight’s knife nicked the knave’s knee.” Lively illustrations provide context clues, and alliterative words help readers navigate text like “a bright white gnat is gnawing on my gnocchi” with ease. Everyone from early learners to grown-up grammarians will love this wacky book where “A is for Aisle” but “Y is definitely not for Why.”
This week has been so surreal. My picture book #pisforpterodactyl comes out today and hit the top 5 bestselling books on all of Amazon — between @michelleobama and #diaryofawimpykid. We just hit the front page of @reddit, too. https://t.co/7rqAjyHIVi pic.twitter.com/zvfJq9fq5S
— Lushlife (@lushlifemedia) November 13, 2018