2011年10月29日 星期六

"Post Captain" by Patrick O'Brian

"Post Captain" was first published in 1972.  It is the second novel in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series.  It is also the sequel to "Master and Commander," which was made into a movie.

I read "Master and Commander" about a year back, and thought it was an excellent book.  I liked it even more than the movie.  Patrick O'Brian had a definite command of his subject, and of the time period in which the Aubrey/Maturin novels are set.  Reading his books, one would have thought that he was writing in the 1800s, rather than in an age of satellites, telecommunications, and supersonic aircraft.

Compared to "Master and Commander," "Post Captain" is more of a mixed bag.  There are some great chapters in this book, and the naval action never fails to impress.  Jack Aubrey presides in all his militaristic, womanizing splendor, and Stephen Maturin is the kind of right hand man we all wish we had.  Maturin is, in this novel, a much more complex character than in their first outing, and this is at least one area in which "Post Captain" surpasses its predecessor.

Nevertheless, this book has some boring patches, and the Jane Austenesque beginning to this novel doesn't quite convince.  This book has too much backstory for its own good, and the plot is about as unseaworthy as Aubrey's ship, the Polychrest.

If you were dazzled by "Master and Commander," you will certainly find a lot within "Post Captain" to like.  If, however, you are looking for less labored accounts of nautical drama, then you might pass this one over.  Patrick O'Brian was a superb writer, and I'm certain other installments in the Aubrey/Maturin series are better.

2011年10月20日 星期四

"The Next Fifty Years" by Various Scientists

This book was published in 2002.  It is a collection of essays on the future of various scientific disciplines, and how advances in these disciplines might shape the world of tomorrow.

I think, however, that the title needs to be revised.  Given that this book first appeared in 2002, which is almost ancient by modern scientific standards, the title ought to be changed to "The Next Forty-One Years... and Counting."  This title would also better reflect the fact that any collection of essays, like this one, is never going to be much more than a sandcastle, threatened by the constant tide of new discoveries.

So what did I learn from this book?  Answer: not much.  Very few of the essays go into any kind of detail, and those that do are either indecipherable or incredibly contentious.  I'm not really sure what the editor of this book, a Mr. John Brockman, was thinking.  Perhaps he thought that quantity would make up for quality.  Or perhaps he thought the handful of better-known authors represented here would make up for all the lesser-known, far less insightful authors that penned the majority of this volume.

Or, put another way, what I learned from this book was:
  • Psychology is stupid.  It is not a science, and it is not likely to become scientific anytime in the near future.  Psychologists, almost as a rule, pick what they like from Science, much as one would pick from a buffet table, taking what they like and leaving anything potentially contradictory.
  • Professors of mathematics, no matter how hard they try to put things in "plain language," will almost always fail to do so.
  • The Human Genome Project is going to crack everything wide open, even though no one seems to know exactly how or when.
  • Physicists might just discover the Answer to Everything any day now, or they might not.
  • Authors as accessible as Paul Davies are wasted on books like this.  It would be better to read other books, possibly written solely by Paul Davies, instead.
And that pretty much sums up what I got out of this book.  I would only recommend this book if you are a fan of idle speculation, and of books written by so-called experts who are writing both outside their field and outside their depth.  In other words, I wouldn't recommend it.

2011年10月17日 星期一

"Revolutionary Road" by Richard Yates

"Revolutionary Road" was first published in 1961.  It was later adapted into a movie starring the attractive couple from the movie Titanic.  I haven't seen the movie, but judging by the promotional materials, I doubt it has much to do with the book.

This one reminded me a lot of Don Delilo's "White Noise."  Both books describe a kind of spiritual crisis in American culture, though Delilo's book is a lot more abstract.  I liked Yates' book more than Delilo's.  After a few chapters I found "White Noise" tiresome.

The story outlines the marital difficulties between Frank and Alice Wheeler, a couple living in Connecticut with their children.  Frank is a fast-talking drone in an office machine company, and Alice is his emotionally distant wife.  Their marriage is headed for trouble from the word "go," and things never really get better from there.

This book is depressing, but it's a great read.  I finished it in a couple days, and I only wish it had been longer.  The characters feel very real, and there are some great moments in this book.  I highly recommend it.

2011年10月15日 星期六

"Light in August" by William Faulkner

I have definitely read my share of Faulkner.  I've read "The Sound and the Fury," I've read "Sanctuary," and I've read many, many more besides.  I wouldn't even be able to name many of the Faulkner novels I've read, since they've all blended together in my mind.  I know I've read "The Unvanquished," but I wouldn't be able to differentiate this novel from "Go Down, Moses."

Faulkner is one of the great American novelists, and he is my second favorite after Herman Melville.  If you haven't read him, you should really give him a try.  His books can be demanding, and often require an extraordinary amount of concentration, but odds are that you won't be sorry you made the attempt.  Sometimes it can be hard to figure out exactly what is going on in his stories ("Spotted Horses" is an excellent example), but I don't think Faulkner was ever obscure for the sake of obscurity alone.  He was an artist, and he knew that the straightest path between two points is not always the most human way of getting there.

I believe "Light in August" was one of his later novels.  It follows the exploits of Lena, a young, pregnant girl walking all the way from Alabama to Faulkner's fictional locale of Jefferson.  It also follows the doings of Joe Christmas, a "foreign-looking" southerner of negro ancestry.  The book explores race relations in the American South, and also, at times, gets downright weird.

I can't say that this was one of my favorite Faulkner novels.  It doesn't hold a candle to "Go Down, Moses," but even Faulkner's less impressive novels still put most other books to shame.  If you've already read his more famous books, I would recommend this one.  It's shorter and less confusing than some of his other novels, and it still has a lot to say.