Early Christmas Present – my white Xmas and early #Christmasgift #holiday #christmastree

Snow in SW New Mexico Dec 2017The mountains of New Mexico’s southwest corner have an early Xmas gift – snow! It’s been a dry autumn so this is welcome. A perfect weekend day to curl up with a mug of tea and a good book.

Whatever holidays you celebrate and wherever you are, I hope the season is joyous and the weather is exactly what you want. May you share it all with family and friends.

Join a near-future colony on Mars - AMazon and all major online stores

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When Physics Tries to Restore Magic for Shadowy Government Purposes, a Time Travel Romp Begins – delightful premise, crazy problems that may destroy our world #review #bookreview #timetravel #sciencefiction #scifi

Scifi reviews by Kate Rauner - visit the blogI was enthralled with the first quarter of this long novel, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. Physics and magic intersect wonderfully when an expert in ancient languages, Melisande Stokes, is hired by a man representing DODO. DODO is “a shadowy government entity you’ve never heard of.” It turns out he’s telling the truth, which gives you an idea of the irreverent tone through much of the book.

The DODO team uses time travel to change the present for shadowy government purposes. Witches once used magic everywhere in the world, until science jammed its frequencies and it disappeared in 1851. But liquid-helium cooled quantum equipment can produce a small room where magic still works. The interplay between magic and physics, as well as with the physicist and witch who join the team, are fun. Not fun for all the characters, though, who quickly learn that it’s not healthy to be rude to a witch.

Melisande narrates from the past, from last few days when magic worked. A mission gone awry stranded her in Victorian London. Throughout the story, she occasionally reminds us that she misses modern toothpaste, that corsets are terribly uncomfortable, and she’s about to be trapped forever as the end of magic approaches.

Melisande took DODO’s first trip backwards in time. To raise money for the project, she plans to steal a book from colonial America that will become rare and valuable in the present. Unfortunately, a witch can only Send a person’s natural organic body (even fillings from teeth are left behind) so Melisande arrives naked and must hide the book so it survives for centuries to be retrieved “today.”

The mission depends on help from a local witch (there’s still magic in colonial times) and Melisande discovers that, when all you take with you is your naked body, all you have to trade with the locals is information (classified!) or sex. There’s quite a bit of sex as the story progresses, though not pornographically detailed.

After a harrowing trip, Melisande returns to discover… nothing where she hid the book. The modern witch explains she must change history on multiple Strands before the present changes. Stands are closely aligned alternative realities that communicate among themselves somehow. Melisande must repeat her adventure several times, and each trip is slightly different. A neat confluence of magic and physics that will probably drive any real-life theoretical physicist crazy. But I liked it.

Starting with the next mission into the past, the book slows down. Events and conversations are explained step by step in more detail than I wanted to read. The book is written entirely as the journals, letters, emails, and files of the characters, so redundancies and tangents creep in. I began to skim. I entirely skipped some sections, such as the Human Resource files on DODO’s new-hires (honestly, such things are included.)

The DODO team grows and there are several missions to different eras. Some will probably intrigue you enough to read every word. Did you know Shakespeare’s plays are anti-Irish? Everyone at the time saw that even though we moderns no longer do. This feels like a detail the authors turned up in their research, though I didn’t check to confirm.

The bureaucracy of DODO is equally detailed. ISO 9000 standards are mentioned, and if you don’t know what those are, you’re obviously not a Quality Assurance geek. With such details, I found it odd that the authors don’t seem to know what Power Point presentations look like. Long wall-of-words paragraphs do not fit on Power Point slides.

I enjoyed the story as pruned by my skimming technique, and read eagerly to the end. The last few pages set up for a sequel, although there isn’t one available yet.

What others are saying
Amazon posts 416 reviews for 3.8 stars, and the sales ranking of DODO is phenomenal.
“Lots of intrigue, science, and laughs.”
“Fun in the use of acronyms and parody of bureaucracy. Unpredictable development of villains.”
“Farcical sendup of the classic time travel trope, complete with witches, sword fighters, and physicists.”

Readers who didn’t like it ran aground in the middle.
“Gets stuck in the middle. Listening to the audiobook, nothing happens for hours.”

Holidays Are In Full Swing – Happy Hanukkah :) With More Celebrations to Follow – Books Make Outstanding Affordable Gifts, Never Again be Caught at Last Minute #HappyHanukkah #HappyChanukah #HappyHolidays

Happy Hannukah from Kate RaunerMay you have a joyous season.
Menorah set out – check.
Found grandma’s recipe for latkes – check.
Hanukkah bush is decorated – check (I am an American after all.)
Chocolate coins covered in golden foil – check.

Forgotten anything? Does your family exchange gifts? Maybe books or games?

Send an ebook anytime (or a paperback if you planned ahead.) Follow Emma Books make great Hannukah giftsto Mars to explore the Red Planet, build a new home, and face dangers with the first twelve settlers. Available from Amazon and other favorite online stores.

Not sure what your giftee likes? Send a collection of short reads, also on Amazon and other favorite online stores.

Try before you buy – online stores offer previews of every book – or just jump in.

When Banned Foods Turn Good – What in the World is Going On? How Will I Know it All? Why Do These Things Happen? Cause It’s Hard #nutrition #science #research #data #poetry #poem #humannature

Science inspired poetry by Kate Rauner

Rats are easier to study

It’s hard to study humans,
They live so very long.
Observing generations
Can’t complete before you’re gone.

They fib on every survey form,
Eat more than they say,
Exercise much less than claimed,
And forget along the way.

Confounding factors multiply
Throughout the lives they lead.
Their choices vary wildly,
Statistics can’t succeed.

They’ll never match a rat for tests,
But if you lure them
to your lab,
You’re not allowed to lock the door,
It’s enough to drive you mad.

By Kate Rauner

Brought to mind by a Forbes article suggesting an ounce or two of cheese a day, even full-fat cheese, may not be bad for you and could even be beneficial. The new study was published in the European Journal of Nutrition. Researchers used data from 15 earlier studies that followed their participants for 10 years. I’ve often seen articles contradict each other over nutritional and exercise claims. Part of that is, the popular media tends to make too much of a fuss over each new study because no one clicks on “maybe,” “suggests,” “slight change,” or “never mind” in the headline. But part of the problem is, it’s hard to study humans in the wild.

Our Neanderthal Cousins More Like Us Than You Know #anthropology #fossil #Iraq #neanderthal #caveman #science

Skeleton and model Neanderthal

Neanderthal humans, the iconic cavemen of the last Ice Age, were a lot like us. Some early modern humans thought they were enough like us to mate with. You and I probably have a small amount of Neanderthal DNA in our bodies, which helps us make vitamin D and may raise our cholesterol levels (both adaptations to Europe in the Ice Age.) They contribute to the skin tone, hair color, and sleeping patterns inherited from our European ancestors. Neanderthal genes

Evidence from skulls and skeletons shows that Neanderthals cared for each other, just as we do today. Fossil discoveries in Northern Iraq included flower pollen.

Someone in the last Ice Age must have ranged the mountainside in the mournful task of collecting flowers for the dead… It seems logical to us today that pretty things like flowers should be placed with the cherished dead, but to find flowers in a Neanderthal burial that took place about 60,000 years ago is another matter. Neanderthal DNA

While not the only explanation possible for the flower pollen, it is haunting.

Neanderthals cared for injured or disabled individuals during their lives too.

At a young age, [the fossil designated] Shanidar 1 experienced a crushing blow to his head. The blow damaged the left eye (possibly blinding him) and the brain area controlling the right side of the body… All of Shanidar 1’s injuries show signs of healing, so none of them resulted in his death. In fact, scientists estimate he lived until 35–45 years of age. He would have been considered old. Shanidar-1

He also suffered from a withered right arm which had been fractured in several places and healed, but which caused the loss of his lower arm and hand. wikipedia

A new analysis of Shanidar 1 adds severe hearing loss to the man’s list of disabilities.

Of course, various animals care for offspring and share food. I still get teary-eyed remembering a momma dog I once knew. One of her pups died and we buried it, but in the morning found the little body, licked clean, at her side. But Neanderthals were humans, and more and more I can add: like us.

I’ve read that most of the fossils from the Shandiar cave have been lost in the current Middle East wars. “Shanidar 1 Neanderthal cranium was analyzed visually with low magnification assessment of the intact right and left external auditory meatus in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad in 1976–78. Cranial radiography was not available in the Iraq Museum, and reanalysis since then has not been feasible. Observations are therefore based on the externally visible configurations of the auditory pori and lateral meatus.” The research is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

The emphasis in this quotation is mine. A dry reference, I assume, to one more sad outcome of war. There have been stories of museum staff hiding, and thereby saving, some of Iraq’s treasures. I hope the Neanderthals will reappear someday.

Believable Misery in Dystopian Novel, Earthseed #review #bookreview #dystopia #dystopian #sciencefiction

dystopian novel of near-futureWhatever happened in this dystopian world, it happened quickly. Old people remember the “good old days” but only a few children learn to read and write. Huddled in small enclaves, remnants of our current, doomed America hang on to whatever jobs exist, grow as much food as possible, and try to defend themselves. As with many dystopias, fighting and killing your dangerous fellow citizens is central.

There is no villain in the story, not unless you count the starving, desperate, and murderously drug-crazed mobs as a character. The hero is Lauren, a young woman who sees the end of her fragile safety approaching. When the mob breaks into her walled neighborhood, she flees. Walking north on highways now empty of cars but full of escapees on foot, she meets a few allies and many enemies.

Horrific events fill the story, but they are kept at a distance. There’s plenty of blood and action alternating with endurance and misery, but Lauren only hears about some attacks and sees others from a distance, or in the aftermath. Even when she’s directly involved, the format of the book blunts the gore. Lauren is writing in her journal, after the events she describes. This may make the book acceptable for younger readers than I’d think otherwise. The ending is anti-climactic, fitting the tone of the story.

Lauren is unusual in two ways. First, she is developing a new religion, Earthseed, based on the idea that God is Change. Chapters open with quotes from her Books of the Living. These quotes are short, repetitive, and not especially interesting. The point is more that she continues to write and think, less what she specifically writes.

Secondly, Lauren is hyper-empathic. She feels the physical pain of conscious people around her. While she suffers the results several times during the story, this remarkable trait doesn’t drive the plot or change what happens. Since this is the first of two books, maybe Earthseed and hyper-empathy are important to the second book. They’re bits of interesting background here.

What others say
Maybe I’ve just overdosed on dystopias, but I didn’t like it as much as most reviewers. With loads of reviews on Amazon and 4.5 stars, Earthseed is popular.

Here’s one testament to the book’s significance: “Had to read it for school. Reads quickly and doesn’t get boring, aside from the first two chapters or so.”

For one reviewer, it replaces 1984 as the iconic tale of where today’s world is taking us. Terrifyingly believable, a story that does not assume everyone is white. (Lauren and many of her allies are people of color.)

Development of Earthseed is gripping. This opinion puzzled me, since I thought Earthseed wasn’t a driver for the story. Maybe I missed something.

“We chose Parable of the Sower for our book club reading and it sparked engaging & thoughtful conversations.” I could see myself enjoying such a discussion about this story.

Negative reviews warned the book is not appropriate for younger readers. Pure dystopian that is weighed down with abject hopelessness.

Quick, easy read… almost seemed like a good movie script. Funny – Amazon lists that as a critical review.

Review of Earthseed Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler

Happy Thanksgiving America! Canada: It’s Been Almost Two Months, So Why Not Join Us for a Second Turkey? #happythanksgiving #Thanksgiving #turkey #happyholidays

Various colonies and Presidents declared Days of Thanksgiving since Europeans arrived in America. We didn’t settle on a date for a long time:

On October 6, 1941, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution fixing the traditional last-Thursday date for the holiday beginning in 1942. However, in December of that year the Senate passed an amendment to the resolution that split the difference by requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was usually the last Thursday and sometimes (two years out of seven, on average) the next to last. The amendment also passed the House, and on December 26, 1941, President Roosevelt signed this bill, for the first time making the date of Thanksgiving a matter of federal law and fixing the day as the fourth Thursday of November. wikipedia

Our modern holiday can trace its [American] football tradition to the late 1800s. As late as 1940 people thought it was unacceptable to advertise sales for the secular part of Christmas – today Xmas merchandising in November ranges from tacky to expected.

Personally, I refuse to think about Xmas until I’ve eaten my bird. Winter holiday decorations go up the weekend after Thanksgiving at my house.

About that bird… wild turkeys were favored game, and kept domestically, since the beginning – since before Europeans swarmed across the Americas. The wild turkey is being reintroduced throughout its original American range, and it’s thriving.

I’m off to cook, sip wine, and watch some football.

Happy Thanksgiving to Americans wherever you may be, and to everyone else – happy harvest festivals and a joyful winter holiday season.