||[Aug. 13th, 2010|07:21 pm]
42. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
43. White Cat by Holly Black
44. QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard Feynman
45. The Cat who Walks through Walls by Robert Heinlein
46. The World According to Twitter by David Pogue and a bunch of twits
47. The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
48. Elric: the Stealer of Souls by Michael Moorcock
Les Mis was, well, everything I expected. Unusually, I think it really helps to have already seen the musical before reading this book - understanding where the characters' arcs are headed in the future helps the reader understand the significance of some of the chapters, and having something to look forward to helps get by others (where, it seems, the author spends fifty pages at a time setting up background to minor points in the main plot). I don't know if I would have enjoyed it nearly as much as I did if I was struggling through chapters and chapters of exposition and set up with no sense of where it was headed.
White Cat is a cute little book about the youngest member of a family of "curse workers". The world is basically present-day America with the understanding that magic is openly known, but the ability is rare. The author does an excellent job of world-building here, postulating the ways our world would change given the presence of this kind of magic. The plot itself is a little predictable in places, due to a combination of trope usage and insufficiently subtle foreshadowing, but the real joy of the book is the establishment of a deeply dysfunctional family and the way its youngest member gets buffeted about by the broken personalities of basically everyone he's related to.
QED (Quantum ElectroDynamics) was amazing. Feynman manages to reduce the essence of the theory of light into a few simple geometric operations, and goes on to show how a couple simple rules explains everything we know about how light works. It was a little light - so to speak - on actual explanations of why these rules work, though this is one place the book rewards relatively expert readers; knowing what I do about light (and the wave-particle duality), I was able to fill in the gaps (or, perhaps, connect the dots) with a bit of advanced knowledge and feel like I was approaching something resembling the truth.
The Cat who Walks through Walls is one of Sora's favorite books, and (as with a few other Heinlein titles) it was entertaining to see aspects of her personality reflected in the main female character. This being one of his later works, it was relatively free of some of the problematic attitudes towards women that pervade some of his earlier books. Tor.com is doing a "blog symposium" on Heinlein right now (in advance of the first volume of a biography coming out later this month), and I have to agree with many of the bloggers there in how he was remarkably forward-thinking for his time while still seeming somewhat regressive from a 21st-century point of view. (It feels kind of like the social-justice version of watching those old 50s/60s films about how the future was going to seem - accurate in some places, ambitious in others, but all wrapped around a core that's helplessly stuck in the past, as a product of their times.)
The Twitter book was basically an aggregation of entertaining responses to Pogue's prompts on Twitter. It's a great bathroom reader.
The Elegant Universe happily felt like a sequel to QED, written a couple decades later. It's as full an explanation of string theory as I've ever seen, and I learned quite a bit about it (and want to go read more to fill in the gaps and bring myself up to date from the circa-1999 state of understanding). It was - by design - a little light on the technical details, but there are plenty of endnotes "for the mathematically inclined reader" that quickly went over my head, so perhaps it was, after all, at the level where I was prepared to understand it. But string theory is gorgeous, and the story of its development (and its amazing reconciliation of quantum mechanics and general relativity) is certainly a compelling one.
Elric was something of an anthology collecting a few stories, a serialized novel, and some of the author's thoughts on his own work. It was interesting to read the work for the first time while also learning about the context within which it was written - but while Moorcock was in a lot of ways reacting to (and against) the tropes set out by authors like Tolkien and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Howard, today the "tortured antihero" concept is as much of a trope itself. All the same, the later imitators never quite captured the same existential angst that drives the titular character.
Next up? Not sure. Possibly the Scott Pilgrim comics, the first three of which I picked up a little while ago.