Friday, October 30, 2009


Flashforward Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is one of the most poorly-written books I've ever read. While an interesting basis for a sci-fi book, the execution is extremely sub-par. Sawyer writes like a fifth-grader who is telling his class about a summer trip to Disney World.

Much of the book takes place at CERN, a particle accelerator in Switzerland. Sawyer adds details about the location clearly included only to prove that he's been there, completely unnecessary details like where the fire extinguishers are located. I understand the need to include details in order to create a picture in the reader's mind, but much of the minutiae he includes is completely extraneous.

On the opposite end, the characters are shallow and underdeveloped. Many are there simply to create a structure on which to develop a plotline; we care little about where they're going or why. Ultimately they seems like a set of people who are all just wandering in different directions with no clear purpose.

Most annoyingly, the characters have a tendency to deliver long, very artificial diatribes that allow Sawyer to communicate his philosophies. Science fiction has a long history of comparing and contrasting science and theology, and when done properly it can be very thought-provoking. In this case, the practice was too in-your-face, too overt to be taken seriously. I did not for one minute believe that these characters would actually have conversations such as these.

The book was the basis for ABC's new television show of the same name. Seeing parallels between the events of the book and those on the TV show is interesting. The premise of the book itself is intriguing, but the flaws are too numerous make it worth struggling through.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English by John H. McWhorter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Since I listened to his downloadable lecture series about linguistics earlier this year, I've enjoyed McWhorter's down-to-earth but well-informed way of communicating how language has evolved. This book focuses primarily on how the English language itself has come to be, with an emphasis on how Celtic and Norse languages influenced Old and Middle English. McWhorter is good at describing rather dry topics in ways that keep the reader engaged. I suspect this isn't the last book on this subject that'll grace my Kindle...

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