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John Kwok (New York, NY USA)
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This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
by Naomi Klein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.78
10 used & new from CDN$ 11.43

1.0 out of 5 stars An Emotional-Laden Screed Short on Facts Long on Rhetoric about Climate Change, July 18 2016
This is a long and winding screed asserting that capitalism is responsible for climate change. A screed written by someone who admits that she didn't know anything about climate change until she heard of it from a writer she admires, and began the research for this book. Dubbed a "polemic" by a very credible science journalist, The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert in a December, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books, Klein's book is long on rhetoric and short on facts, as both Kolbert's review and the "dialogue" between Kolbert and Klein in The New York Review of Books clearly illustrates. I am by training a former invertebrate paleobiologist with a background in evolutionary ecology, with some prior expertise in paleoclimatology, who must note that Klein's book was ignored by virtually every science museum and science advocacy organization - I belong to one, the National Center for Science Education - when it was published originally in hardcover nearly two years ago. So too did every major American literary festival ignore both Ms. Klein and her book, with one notable exception. That exception is the Brooklyn Book Festival, which has not offered programming in the sciences, medicine, engineering and technology, unless such programming is consistent with the extremely progressive political views espoused by the festival's leadership, unlike other, major literary festivals in Washington, DC (National Book Festival), Los Angeles (Los Angeles Times Festival of Books), Tucson (Tucson Festival of Books) and Boston (Boston Book Festival) that have offered excellent STEM programming for years and other programming noteworthy for being extremely nonpartisan and unbiased. The 2014 Brooklyn Book Festival is especially memorable for having a "STEM" program featuring Ms. Klein as one of the festival's keynote events as well as two panels that condemned New York City's specialized high schools, especially the STEM "jewels" of Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant - the crème de la crème of the New York City public schools - for being "elitist" and "racist". It is a pity that Simon and Schuster opted to publish Ms. Klein's book, when a book written by credible climate scientists and science journalists from the likes of James Hansen (formerly, NASA Goddard Institute), Michael Mann (Pennsylvania State University), Jonathan Overpeck (University of Arizona) and Andrew Revkin (formerly, The New York Times) would have been far more useful and important in shaping the public's knowledge and perception of climate change. Instead, it opted to publish a book by a "noted" author with no credible credentials in either science or science journalism.


Kalifornia: A Novel
Kalifornia: A Novel
by Marc Laidlaw
Edition: Hardcover
9 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Dizzying Fast-Paced Satirical Cyberpunk Novel from one of the Literary Movement's Masters, June 27 2016
This review is from: Kalifornia: A Novel (Hardcover)
"Kalifornia" is a dizzy, fast-paced, fictional deconstruction of postmodern American society from Marc Laidlaw, among the major figures in the 1980s cyberpunk literary movement in Anglo-American speculative fiction. In many respects, it should be seen as quite prescient in its depiction of mid 21st Century reality television, with Laidlaw introducing us to the trials and tribulations of the Figueroas, the "first family" of "wired" - via artificial nerves - virtual reality. The book opens with Poppy, the only Figueroa still "wired", giving birth on California's bicentennial birthday, to Calafia, the first "wired" newborn, during a live "wired" broadcast seen by millions. Abducted by a secretive cult of Kali worshippers, young Calafia - or Kalifornia as she is renamed by the cult - realizes she can manipulate others through her "wires", and soon takes over the cult. Meanwhile, the governor of California, RevGov Thaxter Halfjest, has an agenda of his own through which he hopes to manipulate Kalifornia, and through her, rule the world. Laidlaw's near future novel lacks the grittiness and realism found in William Gibson's best cyberpunk/post-cyberpunk speculative fiction, but it's still a wild, entertaining, ride that remains a memorable fictional satire of contemporary American society and culture. It's definitely the funniest cyberpunk/post-cyberpunk speculative fiction novel I've read - and I note this having just read it again for the third time - and one that remains a neglected classic by one of cyberpunk's most notable writers.


The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe
The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe
by Stephon Alexander
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.03
28 used & new from CDN$ 19.92

5.0 out of 5 stars An Intriguing Book That Seeks to Tie Jazz Music with Physics, June 12 2016
This is a surprisingly fascinating and extremely well written book that is really more about the author's dual passions about physics and jazz music than solely as a superb popular science account on contemporary physics, for which there are other, more insightful, works from the likes of Brian Greene and Lee Smolin, among others. Still, this is a notable introduction to modern theoretical physics, in which Alexander, a tenured professor of physics at my undergraduate alma mater, uses his knowledge and love of music to convey insights on various aspects of physics, ranging from string theory to cosmology. Like his colleague cell biologist Kenneth R. Miller, Alexander does a fine job in making difficult concepts easily explainable, even if they may not be as detailed in their explanations as those from Greene, Smolin and Lisa Randall in their respective books. Regardless, I think this is a notable effort from a debut scientist author. It will win the hearts and minds of those who are very passionate about physics and jazz music. Those who focus on the autobiographical aspects of his book will find rewarding, his personal trajectory from the rap and drug-infested streets of the Bronx to the hallowed halls of the Ivy League. "The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe" should be viewed as among the notable popular science books published so far this year.


The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It
The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It
by Shawn Lawrence Otto
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.74
25 used & new from CDN$ 17.65

5.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive Book on Science Denialism in America, May 30 2016
'The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It' should be viewed as the definitive book on science denialism in America and belongs on the bookshelves of anyone in government or politics seeking to make public policy decisions that require sufficient knowledge, understanding and appreciation of science, including medicine and technology. This is no mere sequel to Otto's earlier ' and still terrific ' 'Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America'. Instead, what Otto does here is to cover both the history and philosophy behind science denialism, doing an exemplary job in describing how the scientific method actually works, and in praising Karl Popper's philosophy with regards to testing scientific hypotheses. He also reminds us of science's importance ' especially with regards to basic research ' in promoting democratic values, which even scientifically-literate Founding Fathers like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson understood and appreciated, realizing that they were creating a democratic republic that would promote the growth of scientific knowledge, with that knowledge used to further our country's economic success; a point which others, most notably Kenneth R. Miller and Niles Eldredge, have emphasized in their own noteworthy books on evolution denialism, by pointing out that failing to deter and to defeat science denialists ' in this case, Intelligent Design creationists and other, so-called 'scientific' creationists ' has grave implications for ensuring America's future economic and intellectual success as a preeminent global economic, intellectual and cultural power.

Otto shows how moral ambivalence over the development of atomic weaponry, and fear of the military-industrial complex, sowed the seeds for much contemporary American science denialism, transforming the once pro-science Republican Party, whose luminaries included such notable scientists as distinguished astronomer Edwin Hubble, into an intellectual backwater dominated increasingly by those skeptical of science within the Religious Right, aided and abetted, oddly enough, by the emergence of postmodernist relativist philosophers like Jacques Derrida who had no understanding or appreciation of science. It is this thinking which Otto contends has established one of the three main fronts in the war on science; the others are ideological and industrial, borrowing heavily from Postmodernist thought. Postmodernists like Derrida dismissed scientific claims for objectivity via the scientific method, and instead, saw science as myths to preserve or acquire power; clearly a less than desirable aspect of identity politics; a point of view that would become part of the mindset of right-wing Intelligent Design creationists, as well as progressive anti-science movements like vaccine denialism. It is within this academic environment that philosopher Thomas Kuhn developed his concept of 'scientific revolutions', which Otto notes persuasively is one worthy of dismissal simply for relying upon Postmodernist thought.

In his chapter entitled 'The Ideological War on Science', Otto describes how faith-based ideological warfare is being conducted not only on whether one should teach as science, biological evolution and contemporary evolutionary theory, but even, on a more personal level, adequate sex education for teenagers. In each and every case, he demonstrates how religious thought has too often been heeded, resulting in dismantling credible science education, including sex education, and harming greater public understanding of the science behind biological evolution. My only cautionary note here is that Otto is not giving credit where credit is due to theistic scientists like Brown University cell biologist Kenneth R. Miller and religious leaders like the Dalai Lama who recognize that their respective faiths should endorse greater public awareness and understanding of science, with the Dalai Lama famously noting that if Buddhism is wrong and science is right, then Buddhism should conform with science. I also suspect that Miller and former National Center for Science Education director Eugenie C. Scott's efforts in engaging with religious leaders - other notable instances include Michael Zimmerman's Clergy Letter Project and noted evolutionary ecologist Edward O. Wilson's efforts at reaching common ground with those creationist-leaning Evangelical Christians interested in preserving Earth's biodiversity - may ultimately be more successful than the 'slash and burn' tactics advocated by some militant New Atheists, including one notable figure interviewed by Otto.

Otto devotes a surprisingly large portion of his chapter on 'The Industrial War of Science' to the rise of modern advertising in the United States, but it's a history worth noting, since that includes numerous efforts by industry to cast ample doubt on 'unsettled' science, whether it is smoking as a primary cause of cancer ' which was recognized as early as the 1930s by the Nazis, who banned smoking in public places ' or ongoing debates over the 'reality' of climate change. Otto describes how industry has been successful in casting ample doubt on the 'reality' of climate change, which he regards as the newest form of science denialism, much younger, in fact, than the vaccine denialism of disgraced ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield and his intellectual forebears in Great Britain, including an early episode in the middle of the 19th Century. Much of his discussion on contemporary climate change denialism deals of course with political intrigue in the Bush and Obama administrations, and especially in the United States Congress, with Otto offering us a cautionary tale regarding how pervasive scientific ignorance exists within the halls of Congress as well as within the White House.

Regardless of whether one agrees with Otto's encyclopedic overview of science denialism in the United States, there should be agreement that Otto has clearly thought long and hard about what needs to be done, going as far as offering battle plans for politicians, journalists, scientists and the general public to help combat and eventually, defeat, the ongoing war on science in the United States, which has its parallels overseas, in Great Britain, the rest of Europe, and, to an extent, in South Korea and much of the Muslim world. He calls upon politicians, including local ones, to acquire credible science advisors. One important bit of advice that Otto gives to journalists is that they need to cease striving to be 'objective' when dealing with vaccine denialism, evolution denialism and climate change denialism, especially since overwhelming scientific evidence supports those critical of these science denialist movements. He also urges scientists to become more politically involved, as a means of furthering greater public understanding of science and perhaps, more importantly, to ensure that the United States remains the democratic republic founded on its core values, including knowledge and appreciation of science. To his everlasting credit, Otto has written one of the most important ' and necessary ' books of our time, describing how we can win the ongoing war against science, and one that deserves a wide readership from a vast audience, not only those of us concerned with fostering greater scientific literacy here in the United States.


Half-Earth: Our Planets Fight for Life
Half-Earth: Our Planets Fight for Life
by Edward O Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.13
36 used & new from CDN$ 18.50

5.0 out of 5 stars An Impassioned Plea to Preserve Earth's Biodiversity from the Greatest Evolutionary Ecologist of Our Time, May 27 2016
Noted evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson has written a polemic, but a polemic based on his life-long work in ant systematics and evolutionary ecology, that offers some glimmer of hope. This is a surprisingly terse book from Wilson, but one of sufficient length that it may serve as a rallying call to anyone who has some interest in conservation biology - which he should be viewed as its "godfather" - and a keen desire to preserve much of Earth's biodiversity for future generations of humanity. Divided into three sections, Wilson seeks to enlighten the reader on the nature of the problem, how this relates to Earth's current biodiversity, and then, a general overview on what should be done to preserve Earth's biodiversity. In the first section "Part I: The Problem", Wilson describes how and why current biodiversity losses should be seen as a "Sixth Extinction", equivalent in its severity with the five major mass extinctions known from the Phanerozoic Eon (approximately the last 543 million years of Earth's history). Those familiar with Elizabeth Kolbert's "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural Hisotry" might regard Wilson's descriptive prose, repetitive, in its bleak picture of current biodiversity loss, but it is a picture well-informed by Wilson's own decades-long research in conservation biology and systematic zoology, especially of ants. In "Part II: The Real Living World", Wilson's enthusiastic eloquence is at its finest, as he describes vividly, ecosystems in the deepest parts of the world's oceans and even in the Earth's crust that are largely unknown to all, but the most informed readers familiar with relevant aspects of ecology, molecular biology and geology. He also identifies major ecological habitats on Earth that he regards as reclaimable, ranging from the Californian Redwood Forest to the Amazon River Basin, the flatlands of Northeastern Europe and the Congo Basin, to name but a few. In "Part III: The Solution" Wilson advocates for his "Half-Earth" biodiversity preservation plan, but it is a plan that may seem to many, an impassioned plea, instead of an extensive plan designed to preserve Earth's biodiversity in more or less its current form for centuries. He does note the ongoing digital revolution as a means of not only cataloging all of Earth's biodiversity but in providing us a future in which human civilization's "ecological footprint" will be greatly diminished via the development of new technologies that will not only stem the rapid declines in biodiversity loss but also antrhropogenic global warming. With "Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life", Edward O. Wilson may have written his valedictory address to the public in the hope of fostering greater public understanding and interest in the science behind studying and halting Earth's biodiversity loss. A valedictory address that should be read by a wide audience, not only in the United States but elsewhere around the globe, noteworthy for Wilson's superb prose and storytelling talent.


In the Vale of Cashmere
In the Vale of Cashmere
by G. Winston James
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.00
18 used & new from CDN$ 25.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Dignified, Respectful Photographs of a Remote Corner of Prospect Park and Those Who Frequent It, May 19 2016
Honoring the memory of a close friend who had introduced him to this secluded corner of Prospect Park before dying from AIDS in 1991, noted photographer Thomas Roma set out on a nearly four year odyssey to photograph, at first, the gay men who frequent this space, and then, the surrounding naturalistic beauty of the space itself. These are images that are replete with respect and dignity of those whom Roma was able to photograph using his tripod-mounted hand-made medium format camera, that in the words of O. Winston Link - the author of the book's introductory essay - question whether one can have privacy in public spaces and whether queer behavior can be tolerated in a space that is as remote, but still public, as the Vale of Cashmere. If nothing else, these imagines will show those willing to view them, both the artificial - but sitll naturalistic - beauty of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux's favorite public park, Prospect Park, which they designed after finishing their elaborate, magnificent design for Central Park, as well as the predominantly dignified portraits of those frequenting this relatively secluded public space. "In the Vale of Cashmere" is the companion volume to the show - of the same title - that was on display at the Chelsea (New York, NY) located Stephen Kasher Gallery from October 29, 2015 through December 19, 2015.


Join
Join
Price: CDN$ 14.85

4.0 out of 5 stars A Memorable Futuristic Exploration of the Nature of Identity and Technology, May 19 2016
This review is from: Join (Kindle Edition)
Quite possibly one of the best debut novels of 2016, "Join" is the best debut speculative fiction novel I have seen from a mainstream literary fiction writer, with Steve Toutonghi worthy of substantial admiration for superb world building and in creating a believable dystopian near future. In "Join" he explores philosophical issues related to the nature of identity and our current concerns with technology. Simply for these two reasons alone, "Join" is worthy of a wide readership, that should include long-time fans of speculative fiction as well as those who tend to read only work by mainstream literary fiction writers. Much to his credit, Toutonghi deserves ample praise for creating a plausible near future that remains consistent with science and technology, unlike for example, a highly praised debut speculative fiction novel published several years ago by another mainstream literary fiction writer who wrote about epidemiologically implausible word viruses in a rather minimalist Art Deco-inspired alternative history future.

Where I would find fault with Toutonghi's brisk, fast-paced storytelling is having as lead characters, Chance, Leap and Rope, who are not especially intriguing or memorable as characters worthy of the reader's attention. Toutonghi's most notable character emerges towards the end of the book, Hamish Lyons, the mysterious leader of those humans ("ferals") unwilling to embrace the mental and intellectual possibilities made possible by the JOIN technology. This stands in sharp contrast with, for example, with such memorable characters as the ageless spy Edie Banister, the heroine of Nick Harkaway's "Angelmaker" and Flynne Fisher and Ainsley Lowbeer in William Gibson's "The Peripheral"; Gibson's latest novel is especially worthy of note here since he offers readers two compelling versions of the near future that are replete with the gritty realism that is surprisingly lacking in Toutonghi's "conceptual powerhouse" - as Tor.com's reviewer dubbed it - of a novel. Despite the flaws in character development, Toutonghi has written still, a thought-provoking fictional meditation on the nature of identity and technology that definitely deserves a wide readership.


The Lost Time Accidents: A Novel
The Lost Time Accidents: A Novel
by John Wray
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.03
34 used & new from CDN$ 13.11

5.0 out of 5 stars An Exhilirating Blend of Science, History, Philosophy and Fiction Worthy of Exceptional Praise, May 17 2016
This is a most beguiling, truly imaginative, mess of a novel, and I use the word "mess" to praise John Wray's superb storytelling craft and prose, worthy of comparison with the likes of Italo Calvino, William Gibson, David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami. It is an impressive fictional trek through 20th Century European and American history, cloaked as a genre-bending cross between time-travel speculative fiction and film nourish crime thriller; a trek seen through the eyes of a family of liars, thieves and murderers, who regard a former Swiss patent clerk, one Albert Einstein, as their family's most despised enemy, believing that only they themselves, not Einstein, truly understand time and the known physical laws of the universe. Much of the family's saga is seen through the eyes of young Waldemar "Waldy" Tolliver via a series of letters to his lover Mrs. Haven, that other reviewers recognize as memorable love letters to the craft of writing fiction. Named for his wickedly brilliant grand uncle Waldemar Toula, Tolliver discovers that he has left the flow of time itself, set up in a different reality where time doesn't exist. In the course of trying to reconnect with time itself, Waldy Tolliver will take us on a mesmerizing trek through some of the dark corners and recesses of Central European history, especially in the years leading up to and during World War II, when his relative Waldemar Toula discovers how to jump back and forth through time, recreating the fatal discovery made by his father Ottokar in Znojmo, Moravia, near the dawn of the 20th Century. Miraculously, Wray has written a spellbinding work of fiction that delves deeply into history, philosophy and physics that may interest anyone who has enjoyed reading not only the writers I have cited, but also such eminent scientist authors as Brian Greene, Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan, treating us to a riveting fictional celebration of the rise of modern physics. With "The Lost TIme Accidents", John Wray has written the most impressive melding of science and fiction I have read since James Morrow's vastly underrated "Galapagos Regained"; without question, Wray has written one of the most important American novels published not only this year, but maybe, in this decade, that, like Morrow's "Galapagos Regained", does a remarkable job in melding science with fiction.


The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria
The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria
by Carlos Hernandez
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.67
32 used & new from CDN$ 14.04

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, Brilliant and Compelling Tales from a Notable New Voice in Contemporary Anglo-American Speculative Fiction, March 23 2016
Carlos Hernandez's "The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria" is one of the most notable recently published debut short story collections I have read, worthy of comparison with the latest from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link and China Miéville, among others. Much to his credit, Hernandez, who was trained primarily in mainstream literary fiction writing, has mastered brilliantly, the substance and style of contemporary Anglo-American speculative fiction, yielding such gems as his "Fantaisie Impromptu No.4 in C#min, Op. 66" which may be the finest tale I have read regarding classical music, futuristic neurotechnology and the afterlife. He pays ample attention to his own "assimilated Cuban" heritage in memorable stories like "More Than Pigs and Rosaries Can Give" and "Los Simpáticos" - which can be seen as a darkly humorous satire on reality television - and the title story itself, at the end of this remarkable collection, which delves deeply into the Afro-Cuban faith of Santeria, while giving a most unique perspective from a child's point-of-view of a family breakup with a most surprising twist. Hernandez tugs at the reader's emotions, offering sympathetic, often moving, portrayals of each of the characters in his stories. While "The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria" is a notable collection of contemporary Anglo-American speculative fiction at its best, replete with ample excursions into magical realism with a stop or two in hard science fiction, it should also be seen as an important literary statement for those who are interested primarily in contemporary fiction writing from Latino American authors.


A Crown for Cold Silver
A Crown for Cold Silver
by Alex Marshall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 9.90
25 used & new from CDN$ 9.90

4.0 out of 5 stars Fine, Not Great, Sword and Sorcery Fantasy Novel Noteworthy for Its Mordant Humor, March 23 2016
Noted science fiction and fantasy editor Gardner Dozois observed recently that most newly published sword and sorcery fantasy novels tend to emulate the spaghetti western films by introducing readers to a desolate town inhabited by illiterate peasants. We readers are treated to gritty realism, in lieu of spectacular castles and exquisitely dressed nobles and sorcerers. Alex Marshall's "A Crown for Cold Silver" is the archetypical example that Dozois regards with ample skepticism, even if it introduces readers to a fantasy realm in which the sexes are equal, with women capable of leading vast armies into battle. However, there is still much to recommend in Marshall's debut fantasy novel - the name "Alex Marshall" is actually a nom de plume of a successful author who has written successfully in several genres - starting with the exceptional realism of characters, and ample dosage of mordant humor. Diehard fans of sword and sorcery fantasy may find far more admirable, debut fantasy novels from the likes of Ken Liu ("The Grace of Kings") and Seth Dickinson ("The Traitor Baru Cormorant"), which are especially noteworthy for their spectacular world-building, whether it is from East Asian history and mythology (Liu) or from slyly adopting some current socioeconomic political thought (Dickinson). In stark contrast, Marshall has borrowed from various East Asian and South Asian cultures, freely adapting them into the creation of the "Crimson Empire" fantasy saga that will continue in a subsequent sequel. In introducing readers to his "Crimson Empire" fantasy saga, Marshall may have created a fantasy realm that some discerning readers have recognized as a sword and sorcery fantasy riff on "Star Wars". Those willing to overlook these artistic flaws and enjoy its ample mordant humor, will find "A Crown for Silver" a memorable debut fantasy novel.


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