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review 2016-11-18 23:41
The Science of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials - Mary Gribbin,John Gribbin

This is such an amazing book!


I loved the His Dark Materials trilogy (The Subtle Knife admittedly less than the other two, because it was less about Lyra being awesome and more about her deferring to Will) and this book made me love the series even more.


Mary and John Gribbin give some background information into the science of Pullman's stories. It's basically like reading bits of A Brief History of Time thrown into the series.

This book covers all three of Pullman's novels and has specific chapters for explaining each of the title instruments (the golden compass, the subtle knife, and the amber spyglass) along with other aspects of the series.


I really liked how easy to read this book was. The Gribbins take advanced concepts such as string theory, quantum mechanics, evolution, and entanglement and simplify them so they are more easily understood by young readers (and those of us who are not scientifically inclined).


This is a great read. The text in informative and often humorous. It is clear that the authors love the His Dark Materials series and it is easy to share in their enthusiasm for the story as well as the science behind it.


While the book was published in 2003, the concepts they discuss are still applicable today (plus the series was written in the 90s so the science is still relevant for Pullman's time period).


The book also contains an introduction by Pullman himself. In the introduction Pullman states, "Although I'm a science fan, I'm not fundamentally a scientist. I'm a storyteller. A genuine scientist would love the subject for itself; I think I love science for the stories that are told about it." I have never been able to put into words why I love science, but now Pullman has done it for me. This is a great book to interest young readers in science as well as storytelling.


Highly recommend for those who enjoyed the His Dark Materials trilogy and are fascinated by science.

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review 2016-10-29 00:08
Really enjoyable audiobook version
The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman

I listened to this book as an audiobook. I actually enjoyed it in this format very much. It was mainly read by the author, but it also had a full cast for the characters. Much better than when a male reader tries to imitate female voices. Though sometimes that can be very funny. It reminded me of the fairy tale cassettes I used to fall asleep to as a child.


The story itself is about a girl, Lyra. It's obvious from the first moment that she's one of those destined children so popular in fantasy fiction. She's also 11, which is a common age to start child characters off. Lyra is a smart and cunning child. One of those natural leaders that can be the next Martin Luther King Jr., or the next Stalin. Which one she will become depends entirely on her basic temperament and life experiences. She is also very adaptable, just like her daemon. Whatever environment she finds herself in, she becomes part of it. She does feel like a normal child though. Sometimes children in stories are like mini-adults, but she isn't. I do find it interesting that a man picks a little girl to write about, while a similar destined character, Harry Potter, was written by a woman.


Daemons are the very core of the story. At first, I didn't feel they were properly explained. I got that daemons were the souls of people, but how they could function only became clearer as the story progressed. Daemons were the true forms of souls. They revealed the hidden desires, personalities, thoughts of people. It would be nice to have a daemon in real life. According to a Buzzfeed test, mine would be a cat.


There are some other characters, that were very intriguing, and a joy to read about. My personal favourites were the witches. Interestingly enough, they're the non-Christian characters, though they also seem to have some sort of a religion. I loved how Serafina Pekkala talked about the life of witches, how their longevity was a blessing and a curse.


The armoured bears were also interesting. I was especially intrigued by Iofur Raknison. He is a bear, who wants to be a man to be baptised. In a way, he reminded me of many peoples that decided to convert to Christianity, shunning their own native cultures. It wasn't properly explained though, what his motivations were. Maybe a form of self-hate. Hating being a bear, because he thought being a man would be more. Or he wanted the absolution for the things that he had done that the Catholic Church offers to people. To be free of his sins. Of course, sins can only be forgiven by ourselves if we want to be free of them, and some sins are purely imaginary, like the whole Original Sin idea. Religion tells you, you are sick, and they have the cure. The only trouble is, most people aren't sick at all. If you do have true sins, like Iofur, the forgiveness of others has no real meaning. It can help people to find a way to forgive themselves, which is probably what Iofur is really seeking, but in the end, the matter has to be dealt with on the inside of every person.


The story is about the importance of self, of thinking, free will. The evil people in the story are basically all those religious organisations that try to tell people how and what to think. I'm not completely sure yet what dust is exactly, but I have a few theories. I'm sure the story will be more and more about religion, having listened to Philip Pullman in interviews, but I'm curious as to where he will take the story. I do have the whole series as audiobooks, and lots of time to listen to them as I come and go.


This book can be read two ways. As a child, seeing the adventure, the evil characters, and cheering Lyra on. Or as an adult, observing the underlying themes, thinking about how freethinking has been hampered, progress, imagination stiffened by religion. I know, probably lots of religious parents are scared to give the book to their children, because of the very thing that I've written. However, if their religion is true, should it not withstand the test of reading fiction?


I do recommend this book. It's great fun, though brace yourselves for the ending. In a way, on its own, it was a bit like The Hunger Games' brand of dystopia. Also makes you think. Who ever said that books that made you think about religion had to be boring?


Read my review of the movie as well! I do compare it with the book.


Cross-posted at http://unapologetic-reviews.blogspot.com, where you can find more reviews.

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review 2016-09-10 16:31
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

An utterly absorbing tale, which sparkles in its creativity and reaches young and older readers alike, with the quality of Pulman's writing. The characterization is exceptional, the plot intriguing and the pace superb. A modern classic series which really does deserve the description, page-turner.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1521145388
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review 2015-10-25 15:54
A literary alethiometer
The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials is the most recent, and highly successful, OB/MR buddy read. We've now finished the trilogy. I had delayed writing reviews of the books, but after finishing The Amber Spyglass last night, I shall delay no more.


The titular Golden Compass - or alethiometer - is a device which Lyra Belaqua, also known as Lyra Silvertongue, uses to find truth. In the movie, it was rendered thus:



In order to use it, Lyra places three controllable hands on three images to ask a question, using layers of meaning assigned to each symbol, and then the single black hand sweeps from symbol to symbol, answering the question.


When I was getting ready to write my review, it struck me that this book itself is a bit of a literary alethiometer, existing on several levels at once: the first level, in which it is simply a story - gorgeous, richly imagined, with fabulous imagery - to capture the interest of the reader. The second level, deeper, is one in which Pullman retells the Paradise Lost story, and the expulsion of humanity from the Garden of Eden after eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. And, even, a third level, in which Pullman rejects the idea that Adam and Eve were wrong, and makes an argument that the temptation to eat the fruit is what makes us essentially human - not a sin for which we are being punished, but the act that created a consciousness and the ability to know ourselves.


Like The Lord of the Rings, this is a trilogy in name only and by publishing necessity. Truly, it is one long arc, beginning with The Golden Compass, continuing into The Subtle Knife and ending with The Amber Spyglass, which traces the adventures of Lyra Belaqua as she becomes embroiled in a cosmic battle between the Authority and humanity. The first book is the most accessible, I think, as it is a straight up good versus evil story with a rag tag band of heroes on a quest to save a group of children, led by Lyra.



Along the way, Lyra enlists the help of a band of men and women and bears: Iorek Byrneson, Serafina Pekkala, Lee Scoresby, Father Coram and John Faa. Existing within a parallel universe that looks very like our own, but with some delightful differences (talking armored bears and animal representations of souls for the win), the Magisterium is a stand-in for the Catholic church in all of its not-so-glorious inquisatorial brutality. Pullman does not pull his punches when it comes to the excesses of religions existing primarily for the glorification of men and their thirst for power.


There is so much to talk about here - her parents, the terrible Mrs. Coulter, who works for the Magisterium as an ambitious woman seeking whatever power she can attain in a largely male-dominated religious hierarchy. Her father, Lord Asriel, an apostate and mysterious adventurer building some-kind-of-thing in the North which terrifies the priests of the Magisterium. The Gobblers, child thieves, stealing children away to perform terrible experiments on them in an effort to save their innocent souls from the sinfulness which comes, naturally, with puberty.


And Dust, mysterious particles that no one in Lyra's world has either the tools or the knowledge to fully understand. Perceived as the physical embodiment of sin, it is Dust which the Magisterium is trying to conquer by severing the soul from the body. Even having read the entire trilogy, I still feel that I need an Amber Spyglass to see Dust in order to understand it - I see only through the glass, darkly. 


By the end of the book, there is loss and horror, and the way is opened for Lyra Silvertongue to fulfill the prophesy in which she re-enacts the temptation of Eve and, perhaps, along the way, saves humanity.

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text 2015-10-05 04:11
October/November Reading List
Interview with the Vampire - Anne Rice
Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend - Mark Collins Jenkins
His Dark Materials (His Dark Materials #1-3) - Philip Pullman
The Mysterious Benedict Society - Carson Ellis,Trenton Lee Stewart
The Feast of All Saints - Anne Rice

I'm re-reading Interview With the Vampire for bookclub at work. It's just as darkly enchanting as I remember. Truly a masterpiece; Ann Rice just swoops right in, picks you up, and puts you in the room with Louis, lets you sink into his memories... you can almost feel the New Orleans humidity and see the sun rising on the plantation of his human life... just perfection. Absolute perfection.


Vampire Forensics is a look at the actual medical science behind what our ancestors attributed to "vampire attacks". It also takes an in-depth look at the folklore of the vampire throughout the world. I'm pretty sure there's a NatGeo documentary that I've watched of the same title... but The History Channel's Vampire Secrets special is the best vampire special ever made and covers a lot of this as well... but don't worry, you'll hear all about amazing spooky documentaries from me very soon!


I have already read The Golden Compass and apparently I read up to the very last chapter of The Subtle Knife and stopped (which I do a lot to save the last bit, but this time I didn't finish somehow). I love these stories. They're thought provoking and adventurous and the world Pullman created, one parallel to our own, is incredible. These books are amazing, they're just so... smart! I can't wait to re-read the first two and finish the trilogy! (Actually, I can because I'm only immersing myself in this world to distract myself when the boyfriend goes on tour again in November.) Lyra is such a badass. If for some godforsaken reason I end up having children I'm naming my girl Lyra so she'll be a badass adventurer too.


I'm sorry but some kids' books are just as amazing even if you don't read them 'til you're an adult. Of course the His Dark Materials series falls into that category and I'm hoping The Mysterious Benedict Society does as well. I can't even tell you how many times I've picked this up at different bookstores and considered buying it only to talk myself out of it. I just love the cover and the little blurb on the back... that alone would make little me desperate to read it. A decent copy came through the bookstore and I decided it was time. (I'm only going to read it if I get through His Dark Materials, so it might end up being a December read, but oh well.)


Another Anne Rice made it on the list- The Feast of All Saints. It's not a supernatural tale- it's actually about Free People of Color in Louisiana before the Civil War. My professor for African American History strongly recommended it, so it's got to be good.


I'll also be reading Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman for Anthropology, How the Irish Saved Civilization for extra credit in English, and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs for African American History.




So what are you guys planning to read/re-read in October/November? What do you have to read and what are you most excited about?
I'm just super excited that it's Halloween Month!!!!!!!!!!1 Prepare for spooks to take over my blog, starting tomorrow!


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