Coal: A Human History

In the summer of 1306, bishops and barons and knights from all around England left their country manors and villages and journeyed to London.

It wasn’t completely the non-fiction that felt like history/school books, but sometimes it got very close. When it didn’t, it was an interesting and possibly confronting pamphlet about the environment and what humankind does to it. And what a bizarre influence coal had on the development of societies. Who would have known?

From deforesting to coal lobbies getting their American president, for something so mundane, coal left severe traces. Barbara Freese is in environmental law as an assistant attorney general, and doesn’t mince words. Which is -sadly- refreshing, climate change and environmental issues so often being handed with kid gloves instead of reality checks. And she does more than preach doom, she looks at (other) options.

All this means the reader gets a bunch of knowledge directed at them, but always in a considerate, usually light, way. No needs arise to prepare for the test soon, although an environmental-related pub quiz may be aced after reading this.

Coal: A Human History, Barbara Freese, Perseus Publications 2003

Predator’s Gold

Freya woke early and lay for a while in the dark, feeling her city shiver and sway beneath her as its powerful engines sent it skimming across the ice.

Part two of the series that plays in a futuristic world with moving, cannibalistic cities. The review on the first book can be found here.

Philip Reeve blew me away with his world building the first time ’round, and didn’t disappoint this time. Instead of sticking to what the reader already knows, the world expands and new characters are added. The Magravine of Anchorage (a young woman who doesn’t know what to do with her half-empty city) is here, there are terrorists, bounty hunters and resistance movements.

It’s clear that humankind can’t go on like this, but a different way has yet to be found. Predator’s Gold is a novel to finish in one go, coming up for air after being bombarded with adventure, silly characters and teen emotions. It’s a thrill and I can’t wait for the third part.

Predator’s Gold, Philip Reeve, Scholastic Press 2003

The Well of Lost Plots

Making one’s home in an unpublished novel wasn’t without its compensations.

Thursday Next, part of Jurisfiction, moves into an unpublished novel to take some time off of her life, including the erasure of her husband.  She replaces a fictional character and lives with her pet dodo in a flying boat. If this sounds out of the ordinary to you, you must be unfamiliar with the Thursday Next books. Jasper Fforde creates books in which nursery rhyme characters are alive (except when they’re a victim of murder), and there is a world of fiction in which real people can exist and book-jump.

Of course the easy life of a fictional character (she even gets lines to say) doesn’t last long. Not only does she start small mayhem in the novel she lives in (one of the characters is desperate to make it better and stray from the plot line), but she also stumbles into a plot to take over the world of books.

I really like the worlds in Fforde’s books, but feel that he dropped the ball with this one. Just a little bit. He got stranded in too much detail about how the fictional world works, up to the committees, layers and several repeats of why the office was on the 26th floor because there were few author names that started with Q-Z. It makes the story drag, I rather had more scenes with Thursday’s pet dodo Pickwick. There always seems to be more space for the slightly absurd (there is also a nursery rhyme characters strike) anyway.

Just skip to the other Thursday Next books.

The Well of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde, Penguin Books 2003

Rigor mortis

Dood zijn is te vergelijken met een verblijf op een cruiseschip, althans zo zie ik het.

Mary Roach’s boek vertelt over alles wat er met een lijf kan gebeuren (en gebeurt) nadat het is gestorven. Ze springt door de geschiedenis, langs anatomie, lijken als dummies en proefpersonen, kannibalisme en op welke manieren je van een lijk af kan komen. De auteur biedt veel informatie over de steeds wisselende gedachten over waar een lijf uit bestaat, wanneer de dood intreedt en wat de beste manier is om het na de dood te bergen.

Maar  de manier waarop Roach het doet, zit mij dwars. Dat het subjectief is, is niet meer dan logisch; het zijn haar ervaringen en haar gedachten over dit onderwerp, ze mag best laten doorschemeren wanneer ze ongemak voelt in de buurt van een afgesneden hoofd. Maar het eindeloze gebruik van vergelijkingen en het versimpelen van methodes gaf mij erg het gevoel dat de auteur de lezer niet zo vertrouwt. Daarnaast dragen haar mutsige omschrijvingen van de mensen die ze ontmoet nergens aan bij en kan ze soms beter haar mening bij zich houden. Bepaalde functies omschrijven als ‘afschuwelijk’ en ‘gruwelijk’ zorgen juist voor het tegenovergestelde van wat ze (naar mijn idee) met dit boek wil bereiken: dat de dood en mensen die er mee werken een realistischer imago krijgen.

Voor de informatie isRigor mortisdus zeker de moeite waard, maar probeer wel over de schrijfstijl heen te lezen. En regel een sterke maag: elke operatie, test en autopsie wordt uitvoerig beschreven.

Rigor mortis: Over de lotgevallen van de doden, Mary Roach, Norton 2003

Out

She got to the parking lot earlier than usual.

Out is a lot. It shows daily life in contemporary Japan (the majority of the time through the eyes of women, but men also feature), it’s a study on how far a human can be pushed and adjust to a situation, it’s a thriller and a game of cat and mouse between two people who start out as very different, but have more in common than expected.

With so much going on, it isn’t so easy to say where this book is about, but the first thing that starts everything off is a woman strangling her husband, her admitting it to a colleague and her colleague helping her with covering this up. This and the disposal of the body seem to be successful, until more and more players get in on the secret and they all want something else from it, from the always broke colleague to the falsely-accused night club owner.
All this shows there is no such thing as a clean cut, no-loose-threads ending when it comes to anything that involves humans (yes, also outside of murder). Every characters copes (or doesn’t) in her/his own way, making the knot that ties them together bigger and tougher to escape from.

I took Out out from the library because it plays in Japan with (native) inhabitants, far away from the usual ‘white-view’ books I read. And though some information made me sad (women over 30 won’t ever be promoted in office life, men are more important in every situation), it was also very interesting and made me wonder how different the story would have been if it would have been set in The States or anywhere in Europe.

The thriller part of this book is the least exciting of everything Out has. Pick it up for the people, the plot lines and the society.

Out, Natsuo Kirino, Kodansha International 2003