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review 2018-07-26 13:04
Fun sci-fi for lovers of action, genetics, and intriguing monsters.
Survivors' Club - Ann M. Martin

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber (check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

Let me start by saying that this book is a pretty wild ride. I quote one of the Amazon reviewers (Eric Witchey) because he says it very well and more concisely than I can (as those who read my reviews know all too well): If Andromeda Strain had mutant, undead Cthulhu babies, this would be the offspring. Yes, indeed. Those of you who follow my blog and my reviews probably know I read some science-fiction but I’m not a big authority on it and it is not one of my default genres. But somehow, when I read the description of this book and the biography of the author, I decided to give it a go. I’ve been interested in genetics since long before I decided to study Medicine, and although I pursued a different line of work, I know I’m not alone in following new discoveries and studies on that field. The book also promised plenty of action, and the author’s own military experience and her degree in psychology intrigued me as well.

The story is narrated in third-person from a variety of characters’ points of view, although each chapter is only told from one point of view, so there is no head-hopping or confusion (although due to the frantic pace the story moves at once the infection starts, it’s important to remain attentive). The three main characters are a scientist (a geneticist), Marius, the head of security at Chrysalis Biopharmaceuticals, John Courage (perfect name), and Miranda, the 18-year-old daughter of the company’s CEO (she joins them later in the book, during the first appearance of the monster/infection). Other members of Chrysalis and other settings also play a part and help create a more rounded view of the events and provide an outsider’s evaluation of the characters. Although there are no lengthy disquisitions, navel-gazing, or tons of biographical information, the main characters are fleshed-out, and they have their quirks (Marius is quite nerdy, with a love of British TV series, while Miranda is a credible young girl, at times losing focus of what is at stake to moan about lack of TV, and she can easily be swayed by the winning smile of a charmer, while John is strong and professional but not without his humanities), their strengths and weaknesses.

The voices of the characters are credible and they use the jargon and technical terms appropriate to their jobs and positions, although the alternating points-of-view ensure that we gain the necessary knowledge from other characters who are also novices, and the story is not difficult to follow, without ever falling into dumbing down or easy explanation. There are likeable and less likeable characters and we get to change our minds about some of them as we read, but I think most readers will find somebody to identify with or care about (and a few individuals to hate too, not to mention the monstruous creature, which has more nuances and is far more intriguing than at first might appear).

The first part of the novel is mostly about setting up the characters and introducing the background information (equivalent to world building) necessary to fully appreciate later the scale of the threat and the difficulties in navigating Chrysalis. The company and its labs are set in an isolated location and their procedures and features turn it into a complex and effective setting for the action scenes, as eerie and creepy as the gothic mansions of the classic horror genre.

The writing is nimble, the scientific and the security topics are well-researched, the action scenes very visual and gritty, showing the expertise of the author, the pace increases as the infection/invasion advances; there is gore, the creatures… Well, the Cthulhu mention is quite apt. There is humour and there are lighter moments, although towards the end of the novel there is not much letting off and the rhythm ramps up to a mad crescendo.

There are pop culture references and some themes running through the novel (what happened in Argentina?) that will amuse some readers more than others, but I feel they add to the atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed the mix of danger and humour, the realism and inside knowledge of how the ex-army security personnel worked and their esprit de corps, and the way the three seemingly disparate protagonists come to know and care for each other. Ah, and there is no explicit love story (there are hints at possible loving feelings between some of the characters but, thankfully, no true or fake romance going on. Hooray!).

The is a sample of the catalogue from the publishers, Not a Pipe Publishing (I love Magritte as well), at the very end of the book, so don’t get too comfortable while you read it, as it will end before you expect it, but the blurbs of the novels made me feel very curious and I’ll have to try to explore it further.

Talking about the ending, yes, it ends with a promise of more adventures and a twist that did not surprise me but I found satisfying. (Oh, and I’ve also read that the author is thinking about writing a short story about what happened in Argentina for her subscribers. I think that’s a great idea and something I was thinking of suggesting as well). I wonder if adding a list of abbreviations or technical terms at the end might assist readers in not missing a single detail, but it is not essential.

In sum, a wild ride, with plenty of thrilling action, scarily credible science, likeable and relatable characters, good doses of humour, in a great setting, and with horrifying and intriguing monsters, who are not, by far, as guilty as the corporate greedy industry behind the plot. I recommend it to lovers of adventures set in a scientific/genetic research environment, especially those who like their monsters to go beyond easy scares. An author to keep an eye on.

 

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review 2018-05-11 15:53
Human Errors
Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes - Nathan H. Lents

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I found this to be both an informative and entertaining read. While the author doesn’t delve very deep into details (each subject in each chapter would probably warrant a book of its own), and although I wish there had been more developed explanations at times, I’m also aware that one book couldn’t tackle everything in one go—and he nevertheless provides enough information for a reader to go on research some more later on a given topic.

I already knew some of the ‘human errors’ presented in the book (such as junk DNA and mutations), but definitely not others, such as why we get so many headcolds (our sinuses placed the wrong way), why we do actually make our own B12 vitamin but can’t use it (same with other vitamins—and this is why we need a varied diet, with all the problems it entails), or why our ways of procreating are, in fact, very inefficient compared to those of other mammals. So, discovering all this was fascinating, and the explanations provided also satisfy the unavoidable ‘why’ questions that rose immediately after (I’m very much a why person; every physician who attended me since I’ve learnt to speak can testify to this). For instance, we lost the ability to make our own vitamin C, whose absence will lead to scorbut and kill us; but the mutation that led to this defect wasn’t erased through evolution because it happened in areas where fruit was easily available, and a diet of fruit would compensate for our rotten GULO gene… until the latter stuck, happily passed around to descendants.

I liked that some explanations went a bit further: it’s not only about this or that physical defect, but also about how we’re still wired for survival techniques and reactions dating back to prehistoric times, and how some of our modern behaviours are thus impacted. An extended example would be gambling, and why people in general have irrational reactions such as ‘now that I’ve lost ten times in a row, I -must- win, there’s no other way’ (though statistically, you could lose an 11th time), or will bet more and more when they’re on winning streak, and risk losing it all or more, rather than save those earnings. Those would go back to the way we interpreted situations to learn from them and survive (man sees a lion in a bush, concludes bushes often hide a lion, and then avoids bushes). Same with optical illusions, due to our brains’ ability to ‘fill in the blanks’.

On the side of actual errors, I noticed a few (redundant words or phrases, that a last editing pass would probably remove). Nothing too bad, though.

Conclusion: Due to the lack of deeper details and general simple writing, this book is probably more for laypeople rather than people with a strong scientific background—but even then, there’s still a chance that some of the ‘human errors’ may still be of interest to them.

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review 2017-12-24 04:11
Genetics gone wild...and woolly
Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures - Ben Mezrich

YES. That is literally what I have written first in my notes for today's book review. Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich is the perfect mixture of technical science and literary narrative. This book tells the story of Dr. George Church and the Revivalists (a group under his tutelage) who are trying to do what has been thought impossible: Bring back the woolly mammoth from extinction. (I have to wonder if the author received a financial backing from this group because if he didn't then he certainly deserves one. He's a major fanboy.) Mezrich covers not only their attempts at this breakthrough in science but also their competition from Seoul which owns the market on DNA cloning. The company in Seoul believes it is possible to find a complete DNA strand while Church's group thinks that the DNA will be too degraded. They're working from pieces of DNA and splicing together traits unique to woolly mammoths with the hope that a viable fetus can be carried by an Asian elephant. A scientific group dedicated to the reversal of extinction of local flora and fauna in Siberia has begun work on Pleistocene Park which is most likely going to be a functioning reality but will take several years. This is where the woolly mammoths (who wouldn't be technically true mammoths) will reside. The controversy and hubris of scientists (especially geneticists who write DNA/RNA) is extensively discussed and is fascinating to me (and I'd imagine to most laymen). However, this isn't only about the woolly mammoth. It's also an in-depth biography of George Church and how he came to be one of the leading figures in genetics. Total 10/10.

 

What's Up Next: Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun

 

What I'm Currently Reading: it's 2 days til Christmas so I'm all over the place

 

Source: Https://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-10-13 07:30
The One - John Marrs

I started reading this a few days ago but put it down again in favour of my library books. I picked it up again yesterday because I didn't have another book right there and finished it in one sitting. I didn't expect to like it as much as I did. It follows the very different fates of several characters who all decide to take a DNA test to find 'the One', their guaranteed partner for life.I just thought it was a brilliant idea although it was a little predictable in some places but that didn't detract from my enjoyment. 

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