Monday, February 2, 2009

This Week At the Library (2/2)

Books this Update:
  • Colonization: Aftershocks, Harry Turtledove
  • The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordian
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman
  • Jedi Trial, David Sherman and Dan Cragg

After nearly a two-month break, I returned to Harry Turtledove's Colonization series. Colonization is a sequel series to Worldwar, which (in four books) depicts the interruption of World War 2 by lizard-like aliens who see Earth as an attractive bit of real estate. The aliens, while technologically more advanced than the Earthers, badly underestimated the technological prowess of their supposed victims. They came anticipating feudal societies and kaniggits but found instead industrialized societies with war-centered economies. (Timing -- it's everything). The Lizards found that subjugating Earth completely was impossible, but they could not be removed, either. At Worldwar's end, humanity and the Lizards arranged a truce and divided Earth between themselves. All of Earth below the equator became a Lizard colony. The Colonization series is set twenty years later and depicts the growing changes in human and Lizard society. Humanity, being what it is, has "borrowed" bits of Lizard technology and has already become more advanced than we 21st century schmucks in the real world. Nazi Germany, for instance, has already landed on Mars. Mars, the war-god, is an appropriate avenue for the aggressive Nazis: in the last book, their aggressive stance toward the Lizards (read war) led to a short-lived nuclear exchange between the Vaterland and the Race. Aftershocks is set afterwards. Nazi Germany has been humanity's strongest and most brutal defender, but it has been eviscerated by both the Race's nuclear weapons and the terms of the peace. Aftershocks sees the United States take a stronger stance, and I found the read enjoyable.

Continuing in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series this week, I read Battle of the Labyrinth, the last book that Riordian has published.The book begins, characteristically, with Percy arriving at a new school, encountering a monster, and then making a dramatic escape that lessens the school's structural integrity. When Percy arrives at Camp Half-Blood, he learns that the camp may be in more danger than he and his fellow Olympians feared: the Labyrinth, the ancient structure that once held the Minotaur, may offer the armies of the Titans a direct path to the camp. Annabeth -- the series' Hermione -- is tasked with finding Daedalus, the architect of the maze, and convincing him to deny use of the Labyrinth. At the same time, Percy is continually visited by dark dreams. In the book, the adventurers attempt to make their way through the Labyrinth, which now spans most of the United States at least, all the while encountering monsters, other demi-gods, gods, and plot twists. This book seems to be longer than the previous books and is more engaging than the others. Riordian also shows that in this series, the conflict does not completely revolve around the main character: other major characters are off doing major things between books.

Next I read Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he examines the way television has warped our culture. In Technopoly: the Surrender of Technology to Culture, he takes a stronger stand -- as you might imagine. He begins by explaining the idea that technology impacts culture (an idea shared by Isaac Asimov, who wrote in Quasar Quasar that the history of civilization cannot be rendered without examining the impact of technology), and then examines how print-culture shaped America. He then begins to write on television's impact on our culture, dedicating specific chapters to religion, politics, sports, education, and so on. Postman writes well, organizes his book in a way that makes sense, and provokes thought on his subject. Postman's opinion on television is not necessarily neutral: he and I both view it as trivializing culture. I wrote an essay back in the early fall about television and politics, and found much to agree with Postman in his chapter on politics. I recommend the read.

Lastly, I read Jedi Trial, a novel placed during the first half of the Clone Wars, shortly become Anakin Skywalker is knighted. It's essentially a combat book, with some character development. I think the Darth Bane books and Dark Rendezvous spoiled me. Perhaps if I read this without having the memory of those books fresh in my mind, I might have enjoyed it more. I find military plots to be uninteresting: Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series bored me for the most part, but Colonization has been stimulating throughout. On the other hand, I seem to enjoy Michael and Jeff Shaara's military works.

Pick of the Week: Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman

Quotation of the Week:
"The television commercial is about products only in the sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales, which is to say it isn't. Which is to say further , it is about how one ought to live one's life." - Amusing Ourselves to Death, similar to the viewpoint of one of my sociology professors, who says that "Advertising sells the idea of normalcy."

Next Week:
  • Homeward Bound, Harry Turtledove
  • Mysteries of the Middle Ages, Thomas Cahill
  • The Book of Ecclesiastes, Tremper Longman

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