This review was first published by Booklist on February 15, 2020.
In They Are Already Here, science writer Scoles (Making Contact, 2017) turns her attention not to UFOs but to the people obsessed with them: believers, skeptics, and open-minded explorers. Intrigued by the recent revelation that the U.S. government has been studying UFOs, she set out to understand why some people are willing to believe outlandish explanations for mysterious occurrences and why others are completely closed to the idea. She recounts her experiences exploring and interacting with various UFO communities and organizations. Readers meet people from across the spectrum of belief and hear their perspectives. Scoles also offers a concise history of UFO phenomena in the United States, and examines how some of the most compelling UFO myths were born. It’s a fascinating journey; the depth of her research is impressive and her curiosity is infectious. At times the author tries too hard to clarify her own position, which, though her honesty is appreciated, occasionally steals focus from the people she examines. Overall, it’s a fun and insightful book.
This review was first published by Booklist on February 1, 2020.
Why does the universe exist? How will it end? What does it all mean? Greene (The Fabric of the Cosmos, 2004), a leading cosmic thinker and popular science writer, attempts to tackle these questions with an eye to explaining our deep need to believe we can be part of something eternal that is focused on the central role of entropy and Darwinian evolution in the unfolding of the universe. He begins with the Big Bang and concludes with explorations of how the universe might end. He explores the development of planets and complex life, the birth of mind, language, and creativity, awareness of mortality, the rise of storytelling, religion, and our attempts to leave some kind of permanent testament to our existence. He serves broad, high level summaries of ideas from physics, biology, neuroscience, philosophy, the arts, storytelling, and anthropology. He provides enough background to follow the meat of the discussion but he doesn’t water it down for nonspecialists. There’s tremendous joy in witnessing a brilliant and curious mind wrestle with such profound issues. He takes readers on a remarkable journey.
This review was first published by Booklist on February 1, 2020.
After almost driving themselves to extinction, human beings have colonized the local solar system and the nearby Trappist system, using an anti-aging drug to extend their lifespans. Every year, the military branches, which protect civilization, compete in the Boarding Games. This year, the Near-Earth Orbital Guard hopes to finally win against the Navy—if their newest recruit can be whipped into shape in time. Max Carmichael, a child of the most influential family on Earth, has broken with tradition and enlisted in the NeoG. But there’s a vast conspiracy afoot that threatens genocide on a massive scale. The big mystery establishes high stakes and the exciting competition sequences of the Games make this book a surprisingly fun read, but this is a character-driven story above all else. Every character is someone readers will enjoy spending time with, and exploring the characters’ relationships is the heart of the tale. Aside from a few stereotypical villains, no one is a bad guy. Wagers’ first book in the NeoG series is an unexpected and refreshing twist on military science fiction.
This review was first published by Booklist on January 17, 2020.
This science-focused photography book looks at the different ways that animals, fish, birds, and insects use camouflage in nature. The heart of the work is the photographs. They’re stunning, high quality, glossy work. It must be difficult to take pictures of effective camouflage in the wild. If the camouflage is effective, it’s hard to see. The images strike a perfect balance between showing the reader what they need to see and making it clear how effective naturally evolved camouflage can be. The accompanying text explains the different types of camouflage in living beings, how each affects survival prospects, and describes a variety of species that use these strategies. Most of the species mentioned in the text are also featured in photographic examples. The text is a very basic overview designed to explain these images, but readers will have to look elsewhere for deeper research. Still, readers will admire the photography and be left in awe of what evolution can accomplish.
This review was first published by Booklist on January 1, 2020.
**STARRED REVIEW** After the fall of Earth, humans colonize other planets, some of which are at war while host to increasing numbers of refugees, with the destitute living in urban squalor while the rich flee to their mansions. Flying between worlds on relativistic space ships are Trader families, who experience months as years pass for the planet-bound. Hisako Sasaki, an unauthorized child on the planet Gaul, is contracted to marry the Trader Adem Sadiq before she’s even born. Hisako grows up knowing her future is out of her control, while the Sadiq’s discover an ancient lost ship with technology that could change everything. There are elements of a thriller story here, but this isn’t about plot. Instead, it’s a social and family drama with a focus on character study and world building. The novel is conceived around a set of questions: How would the time dilation of relativistic travel affect civilization? How would space travelers relate to the planet-bound? How would it alter our perceptions of history and our responsibilities to one another? Greene builds his immersive and socially complex world on these deeply human questions. The Light Years is a story of resistance and acceptance, anger and forgiveness, and the costs of our actions.
This review was first published by Booklist on December 1, 2019.
**STARRED REVIEW** This comprehensively researched and beautifully designed reference work contains profiles of over 80 scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and inventors whose work changed the world. Each profile is between 1-4 easily digested pages that cover essential information. What differentiates this work from similar ones is its scope and inclusivity. It covers history from approximately 650 BCE through the present and includes figures from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the modern Americas. Effort has been made to include many women, too often overlooked by historians for their contributions to science. A broad scope of scientific fields are represented: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, technology, geology, oceanography. All the giants are here: Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Curie, Einstein, Turing, Goodall. Alongside them are lesser known but equally impressive people: Zhang Heng, Al-Khwarizmi, Hildegard of Bingen, António Egas Moniz, Tu Youyou. Profiles are organized based on historical era to highlight the progression of scientific thought and discovery. At the end of each section is a directory of other individuals from the era, each accompanied by a paragraph of basic information. This is an excellent resource to both browse and to serve as a launch pad for further research. Appropriate for middle school and up.
This title has been recommended for young adult readers:
YA/Curriculum Support: Easily digested, inclusive profiles of influential scientists will bolster both STEM and history coursework.
This review was first published by Booklist on November 15, 2019.
Mainstream histories of sf and fantasy cover the main eras, the big names, the important publications and events. But there’s more to any history than just the mainstream. There are obscure authors, forgotten works, and a plethora of what might have beens, plus the myriad ways sf and fantasy have influenced and been influenced by art, design, architecture, fashion, music, and fandom. Lost Transmissions explores some of these often-overlooked pieces of the history of sf and fantasy. How would the genre be different if Jules Verne had successfully published the first novel he submitted? If William Gibson’s screenplay for Alien III had been made, or if E.T. had been a creepy goblin movie? From the sf fashion of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, to the Afrofuturism of Janelle Monáe’s music, to Soleri’s architecture of arcology (best recognized as Luke Skywalker’s dome house on Tatooine,) to contributed essays by a roster of luminaries reflecting on their favorite obscurities, this is a fascinating enrichment of the history of sf and fantasy.