Books June 2016 Stranger in a Strange Land + 2

by Dave Michels

Books completed in June.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein: Classic science fiction that’s been on my list for a very long time.  I think it’s held up well, but who knows. I Really enjoyed the book which is more about our own crazy planet than Mars or anywhere else. The book is about the return to earth of a human descendant of astronauts sent to Mars. This “Martian” goes through several stages from comatose to religious leader. By far the best character is not the title character, but his reluctant attorney Jubal Harshaw who simply isn’t in the book enough.

“I’ve never been able to understand ‘faith’ myself, nor to see how a just God could expect his creatures to pick the one true religion out of an infinitude of false ones — by faith alone. It strikes me as a sloppy way to run an organization, whether a universe or a smaller one.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe. I am still unsure what to make of this book. I enjoyed parts of it, but then found many chapters could not hold my interest. The book is written by the nerdy comic that creates the xkcd comics. He has collected really dumb questions from the Internet and attempts to answer them with logic and science. For example, if you just started rising in the air- what would you eventually die from? The answer was the cold would get you before the lack of oxygen – but the answers are actually very comprehensive. There’s a chapter on building a jet pack out of a powerful guns and another on which can move more data FedEx or the Internet?  The good thing about the book is each chapter is independent and reasonably short. Overall the book does a decent job of blending entertainment with education. Bill Gates recommended this book last year.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain.  Another classic. The only thing confusing about this book is the title – it has no postman or any ringing.  I recognized this story as the 1981 movie Body Heat. The story and movie are not that similar, but there’s enough overlap that it’s clear Postman inspired the movie. It’s a tale of the murder of a husband. What’s most impressive about this book is its shortness. Cain packed a lot of story (romance, murder, trial, and post-trial) into a relatively short book without any section feeling abbreviated. I’m comparing that to current expecations. This book was written in 1934, back when stories went really slow. As with the Price of Salt, these older “erotic” tales have less sex in them than an episode of Three’s Company.


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