Thursday, October 20, 2011

Review: Steampunk!

I'm a big fan of steampunk. I'm not sure when I came across it, or how, but I love the visual aesthetic of it. However I found it, I'm sure I found images well before I found stories. And from the visuals, it's a bit hard to understand the full breadth of the genre.

Steampunk stories cover a wide array of topics and themes. Some are more historical, and some take place in a future that seems strange. Some are born out of Victorian London, and others call the wild west home (while still others take place on space ships or foreign worlds). There is so much that can be considered steampunk that an anthology of steampunk stories can sometimes feel disjointed. *Cough* Steampunk *Cough*

Steampunk!, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, unfortunately suffers from this, but at least it gets off to one hell of a start. The first half or so of the book is filled with very strong stories that each take a stab at their own version of steampunk. Cory Doctorow's "Clockwork Fagin," about a bunch of kids in an orphanage, was by far my favorite of the group. I also really loved Cassandra Clare's "Some Fortunate Future Day," Delia Sherman's "The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor," and Libba Bray's "The Last Ride of the Glory Girls" (which I'm pretty sure was influenced by my beloved Firefly).

Some of the stories seemed not-so-steampunk, but I still enjoyed them. Kelly Link's "The Summer People" was my favorite of this bunch, owing very little to the steampunk genre apart from some mechanical toys that "the summer people" create.

This anthology has been published as a YA book (because it's from children's publisher Candlewick), but it's pretty perfect for anyone who likes steampunk. The only thing that would mark it YA is that many of the main characters are teens, but that shouldn't hamper an adult from reading along.

3/5 stars

Buy Steampunk! on Amazon
Buy Steampunk! at a local store through Indie Bound

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: Galileo's Daughter

Galileo's Daugher by Dava Sobel is, truth be told, not a book I would have picked up on my own. I recently joined a book club (well, a more traditional book club), and Galileo's Daughter was this month's pick. I took the book along on a long car ride with me, hoping I would be able to fly through it, but I found that I kept getting stalled. The night before the book club meeting, I forced myself through the second half of the book, often skimming sections.

And when I showed up to book club, I found out that I was one of the few who had made it through the whole thing. I guess we'll be staying away from historical non-fiction for a while...

Galileo's Daughter is a very different book than it sounds like it should be. The book is based around the letters sent to Galileo by one of his daughters, Maria Celeste, a nun at a Florentine convent. It is pointed out that Maria Celeste chose her name based on her father's work, and that Galileo often noted that she was one of the few people intelligent enough to help with his work. Sobel also bases the book around the very touching fact that a female body, presumably Maria Celeste, is interred anonymously alongside Galileo. What an interesting premise!

It is in the telling, however, that things fall short. The story follows the life of Galileo, and Maria Celeste is hardly mentioned for the first 100 pages or so. There are large sections of the book where she doesn't appear, and often when her letters are quoted, they seem to contradict the idea of the strong and smart woman that Sobel is trying to present.

I think I would have enjoyed this book more if it wasn't named Galileo's Daughter. I realize that her letters are the hook and are what makes this book stand apart from other biographies of the scientist, but I found Maria Celeste to be such a minor character for a book that is named for her!

Sobel does an excellent job describing the times that Galileo lived in, and it is clear that she did a huge amount of research. We had a lively discussion around the machinations of the Vatican and the plague (some members even said they wanted more on the plague!). I can't say that's where we expected our discussion going, but it worked.

Have you read Galileo's Daughter? How did you feel about Maria Celeste's role in the book?

2/5 stars

Buy Galileo's Daughter on Amazon
Buy Galileo's Daughter at a local store through Indie Bound