Saturday, July 30, 2011

What to expect in a book club (part 1)

Me, at a book club meeting
(But where's the book?)
  1. Some people come for the food. If you're moderating, pick a good restaurant. You'll get great feedback.
  2. Members will "defend" their favorite books up for discussion. It's almost like a war really. When this happens, I just sit back and stuff myself silly.
  3. I can fart when there's a heated debate. No one will notice.
  4. Remember the "plus one" rule. When you say 2 pm, people would show up at 3.
  5. Some people write notes on Post-Its and attach them on the pages of the book. The book appears literally bursting with these little pieces of paper. I find it best to seat myself away from them as far as possible.
  6. If the discussion is in a restaurant, paying for the bill is a living hell. Too much mathematics going on just to settle it. Tell the waiter beforehand to have your order listed separately. You'll appear aloof, yes, but you'll save yourself the hassle.
  7. After the discussion, people would stay and talk for a few minutes in little groups. It can be quite noisy. (Of course, they're just waiting for someone to suggest where to have dinner.)
  8. Those who say that they're "Maybe Attending" will NOT come.
  9. Those who say that they're "Attending" will PROBABLY come.
  10. Saying that you can't attend because you haven't read the book is lame. Trust me, you can pull it off. Google is your friend.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Let's talk about science

A lot of you probably think that I was a Literature major back in college. Wrong. I actually have a science background, as I was a Biology major. Nevertheless, my science background did not stop me from reading many genres -- from chick lit to fantasy. Name a genre, I probably have read books on it.

Having this kind of education makes me wonder why a lot of people seem to have an aversion for the sciences. Science is interesting and, yes, it can be FUN. It's a good thing that there are a lot of good non-fiction science books out now. And one of the best in my opinion is Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything.

ASHONE isn't a true blue science book though, as it's more of a history book and short biographies than anything. Plus, if you've been exposed to other non-fiction books in science with a specific subject and theme, you might ask yourself where the heck is Bill Bryson going with his book. But a book club member, Honey, mentioned that Bryson wasn't probably writing for science majors. He was targeting the everyday individual, one who might be interested on how scientists were able to make their important discoveries.

Bryson's writing is very enjoyable. And funny. And candid. ASHONE was so successful that Bryson wrote an edition exclusively for kids, entitled A Really Short History of Nearly Everything. Of course, being the book addict that I am, I had to have it. And when the illustrated edition of ASHONE came out, I just have to get it as well. I also have the trade paperback somewhere, though I couldn't find it (even after searching through rows and rows of books at home). Maybe I lent it to someone years ago, hoping that this person would develop an appreciation for the sciences and the oftentimes unheralded work of scientists.

Last year, my favorite read was a non-fiction science book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It's a fascinating read about how the cells of one African-American woman helped the progress of cell research. Also, it's sad in a way that Ms. Lacks never knew that scientists would harvest her cells without her consent. When you read this book, you'll know how each and every one of us is indebted to Ms. Lacks and her cells, which are still living even after several years of her death.

So, dear reader, are you one of those people who just flee at the mention of anything relating to science? Maybe it's time to pick up a science book. Start with A Short History of Nearly Everything. It's entertaining and wonderfully geeky.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love this cyberpunk novel

Reading Paolo Bacigalupi's novel, The Windup Girl, will give you a natural high. Having won the Hugo and the Nebula, one certainly develops expectations even before opening the first page. The Windup Girl has been described as cyberpunk or biopunk, as it's set in an Earth when oil has run out and the major source of fuel are springs that have been coiled with the highest possible amount of joules possible.

We're in a post-apocalypse Thailand, a nation where extinct plant species are resurrected via genetic engineering. It's a Thailand where the most powerful government agencies are two opposing factions -- the Trade Ministry and the Environment Ministry. It's a Thailand where white men (called farang) still make their mark in business. One such farang is Anderson Lake, who oversees the operation of garbage conversion.

Anderson has a fascination for local fruits. When he spots an exotic variety called the rambutan, his determination to find Thailand's seed bank almost becomes a sickness. Then Anderson spots Emiko, a windup. Windups are termed the "new people." They have been bred in test tubes and have been trained to obey. Emiko, a Japanese windup, has been trained for sex. The farang and the windup get into a very unusual relationship filled with sordid sex.

But The Windup Girl is anything but a love story. It touches on the traitorous world of politics, the sleazy dealings in business, and the chilling consequences of technology. Bacigalupi makes it clear that his novel is set in a world where our current 20th century technology (our reliance on oil, electricity, and uncontrolled bioengineering) has failed and people have been left to measure energy on a calorie basis.

The Windup Girl does remind me a bit of Frank Herbert's Dune. You never know who will turn against you. Anderson's assistant, an illegal Chinese immigrant, betrays him. An incorruptible officer of the Environment Ministry is sentenced to become a monk, thus triggering a chain of events. It was inevitable that Trade and Environment engage in a war. The Windup Girl is rife with these political themes. However, Bacigalupi still makes the novel very readable.

The novel's a bit lengthy at more than 500 pages though. But readers are motivated by Bacigalupi's unpredictable turns. And the characterizations of Anderson, Emiko, and the supporting characters are something that the reader will be able to relate with. I bought this book expecting a sci-fi novel thick with cliffhangers, with a fast-paced narrative, and with wonderfully detailed descriptions of place. I wasn't disappointed.

Read this book if:
  1. You love cyberpunk and you're a fan of William Gibson.
  2. You'll read anything that's won the Hugo and Nebula.
  3. The author's name is pronounced BATCH-i-ga-LOOP-ee.