Quick Review: THE END OF EVERYTHING by Katie Mack (Scribner)

MackK-EndOfEverythingUSHCA fantastic introduction to the possible ways in which the universe will end…

From one of the most dynamic rising stars in astrophysics, an accessible and eye-opening look at five ways the universe could end, and the mind-blowing lessons each scenario reveals about the most important concepts in cosmology.

We know the universe had a beginning. With the Big Bang, it expanded from a state of unimaginable density to an all-encompassing cosmic fireball to a simmering fluid of matter and energy, laying down the seeds for everything from black holes to one rocky planet orbiting a star near the edge of a spiral galaxy that happened to develop life as we know it. But what happens to the universe at the end of the story? And what does it mean for us now?

Dr. Katie Mack has been contemplating these questions since she was a young student, when her astronomy professor informed her the universe could end at any moment, in an instant. This revelation set her on the path toward theoretical astrophysics. Now, with lively wit and humor, she takes us on a mind-bending tour through five of the cosmos’s possible finales: the Big Crunch, Heat Death, the Big Rip, Vacuum Decay (the one that could happen at any moment!), and the Bounce. Guiding us through cutting-edge science and major concepts in quantum mechanics, cosmology, string theory, and much more, The End of Everything is a wildly fun, surprisingly upbeat ride to the farthest reaches of all that we know.

It has been a long time since I last took a science class — not just physics, but really any kind. I’ve kept my interest in the subject somewhat alive mainly through podcasts (for example, The Infinite Monkey cage, which is co-hosted by Brian Cox). Somehow, I managed to leave Katie Mack’s The End of Everything unread for quite some time. I started reading it late one night, and was hooked right from the start. This is an excellent book: one that should appeal to knowledgable scientists and the merely science-curious alike. I really enjoyed this. (And learned a lot!) Continue reading

Very Quick Review: THE SILENCE by Don DeLillo (Scribner)

DeLilloD-SilenceUSA very short novel, with little time to develop

Don DeLillo completed this novel just weeks before the advent of Covid-19. The Silence is the story of a different catastrophic event. Its resonances offer a mysterious solace.

It is Super Bowl Sunday in the year 2022. Five people, dinner, an apartment on the east side of Manhattan. The retired physics professor and her husband and her former student waiting for the couple who will join them from what becomes a dramatic flight from Paris. The conversation ranges from a survey telescope in North-central Chile to a favorite brand of bourbon to Einstein’s 1912 Manuscript on the Special Theory of Relativity.

Then something happens and the digital connections that have transformed our lives are severed.

What follows is a dazzling and profoundly moving conversation about what makes us human. Never has the art of fiction been such an immediate guide to our navigation of a bewildering world. Never have DeLillo’s prescience, imagination, and language been more illuminating and essential.

I’ve not read much of DeLillo’s fiction. I was intrigued by The Silence, however, because of the premise. This was a very quick read, and while interesting I think the synopsis oversells it quite dramatically. Continue reading

Quick Review: TURBULENCE by David Szalay (Scribner/Jonathan Cape)

SzalayD-TurbulenceUSA novel of the intersection of twelve lives

A woman strikes up a conversation with the man sitting next to her on a plane after some turbulence. He returns home to tragic news that has also impacted another stranger, a shaken pilot on his way to another continent who seeks comfort from a journalist he meets that night. Her life shifts subtly as well, before she heads to the airport on an assignment that will shift more lives in turn.

In this wondrous, profoundly moving novel, Szalay’s diverse protagonists circumnavigate the planet in twelve flights, from London to Madrid, from Dakar to Sao Paulo, to Toronto, to Delhi, to Doha, en route to see lovers or estranged siblings, aging parents, baby grandchildren, or nobody at all. Along the way, they experience the full range of human emotions from loneliness to love and, knowingly or otherwise, change each other in one brief, electrifying interaction after the next.

This is the first of David Szalay’s novels that I have read, and it will not be the last: I was very impressed. A relatively short novel, it offers an interesting look at the lives of twelve different people and the events that connect them. Insightful and interesting, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE DREAMERS by Karen Thompson Walker (Random House/Scribner UK)

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I haven’t read Karen Thompson Walker‘s previous novel, the critically-acclaimed The Age of Miracles, but it’s been on my radar for quite some time (and slowly climbing my TBR mountain). In January 2019, the author’s next novel The Dreamers is due to be published by Random House (in North America) and Scribner (in the UK). It sounds really interesting, with a nice science fictional quirk, so it may appeal to many readers of CR:

An ordinary town is transformed by a mysterious illness that triggers perpetual sleep…

One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep — and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster.

Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams — but of what?

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Review(ish): FARGO ROCK CITY by Chuck Klosterman and TWILIGHT OF THE GODS by Steven Hyden

KlostermanC-FargoRockCityUSChuck Klosterman and Steven Hyden are great guides to the worlds of rock and metal music, and their respective (and oft-overlapping) fandoms. In the two books covered in this feature, they examine the bands that meant the most to them, how their music fandom shaped their youths, and also the changes in the industry and soundscapes of the years that forged their tastes. Klosterman’s book is more connected to his own biography, while Hyden’s takes a more in-depth, long-view examination of what makes some rock music “classic”, and how the genre’s mythology has become ever more contentious and troubling. Both authors are passionate music fans and eloquently opinionated. As a result, they are also great guides to rock and metal music. If you have any interest in rock and metal music, then I would certainly recommend these two books. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE BIRTH OF LOUD by Ian S. Port (Scribner)

PortIS-BirthOfLoudUSBruce Springsteen’s telecaster, Slash’s Les Paul, Kurt Cobain’s stratocaster, Angus Young’s SG… These were the guitars that exemplified rock music for me when I was younger. The story of rock goes hand-in-hand with these two guitar manufacturers, while there are other heavy-hitters in the industry, none have the same cache as these two. (Gibson is my personal favourite.) In January 2019, Scribner are due to publish The Birth of LoudIan S. Port‘s history of the two men who created these brands. I’m really looking forward to reading this. Here’s the synopsis:

A riveting saga in the history of rock ‘n’ roll: the decades-long rivalry between the two men who innovated the electric guitar’s amplified sound — Leo Fender and Les Paul — and their intense competition to convince rock stars like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton to play the instruments they built.

In the years after World War II, music was evolving from big-band jazz into the primordial elements of rock ’n’ roll — and these louder styles demanded revolutionary instruments. When Leo Fender’s tiny firm marketed the first solid-body electric guitar, the Esquire, musicians immediately saw its appeal. Not to be out-maneuvered, Gibson, the largest guitar manufacturer, raced to build a competitive product. The company designed an “axe” that would make Fender’s Esquire look cheap and convinced Les Paul — whose endorsement Leo Fender had sought — to put his name on it. Thus was born the guitar world’s most heated rivalry: Gibson versus Fender, Les versus Leo.

While Fender was a quiet, half-blind, self-taught radio repairman from rural Orange County, Paul was a brilliant but egomaniacal pop star and guitarist who spent years toying with new musical technologies. Their contest turned into an arms race as the most inventive musicians of the 1950s and 1960s — including bluesman Muddy Waters, rocker Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton — adopted one maker’s guitar or another. By the time Jimi Hendrix played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in 1969 on his Fender Stratocaster, it was clear that electric instruments — Fender or Gibson — had launched music into a radical new age, empowering artists with a vibrancy and volume never before attainable.

Back in June 2018, the Washington Post published a story about “The death of the electric guitar”, which I would also highly recommend.

The Birth of Loud will be published by Scribner in the US, Canada and in the UK.

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter

Books on Film: THE WIFE by Meg Wolitzer

Later this year (August), Sony Pictures will release the film adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife. Directed by Björn Runge, screenplay by Jane Anderson, and starring Glenn Close, Christian Slater and Jonathan Pryce, it looks interesting.

Wolitzer’s novel is published by Scribner in North America and Vintage in the UK (at the time of writing, the novel is a Kindle Monthly Deal in the UK, too). Here’s the synopsis:

A provocative story about the evolution of a marriage, the nature of partnership, the question of a male or female sensibility, and the place for an ambitious woman in a man’s world.

The moment Joan Castleman decides to leave her husband, they are thirty-five thousand feet above the ocean on a flight to Helsinki. Joan’s husband, Joseph, is one of America’s preeminent novelists, about to receive a prestigious international award, and Joan, who has spent forty years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career, has finally decided to stop. From this gripping opening, Meg Wolitzer flashes back to 1950s Smith College and Greenwich Village and follows the course of the marriage that has brought the couple to this breaking point — one that results in a shocking revelation.

With her skillful storytelling and pitch-perfect observations, Wolitzer has crafted a wise and candid look at the choices all men and women make — in marriage, work, and life.

WolitzerM-Wife

Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel, The Female Persuasion is out now, published by Riverhead in North America (out now) and Chatto & Windus in the UK (to be published in June).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Interview with TYRELL JOHNSON

JohnsonT-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Tyrell Johnson?

Well, my Twitter bio says I’m a father, husband, writer, editor, and donkey trainer. So at least a few of those things MUST be true.

Your new novel, The Wolves of Winter, will be published by HQ this month. It looks rather fabulous: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

It’s a post-apocalyptic thriller about a young woman surviving in the Yukon wilderness with her family. When she encounters a strange man in the wilderness, his dark past calls her to a role she never imagined. I’d love to announce that it’s part of a series, but since nothing is “in the books” yet, I don’t want to jump the gun. Continue reading

Books on Film: RED SPARROW by Jason Matthews

In March of next year, Jennifer Lawrence will star in Red Sparrow, the movie based on Jason Matthew‘s first Dominika Egorova series. The movie is directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation to the star, but also worked with her on Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Mockingjay I II), and the screenplay is by Justin Haythe. Joel Edgerton and Mary-Louise Parker also star.

Here’s the book’s synopsis:

State intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the cast-iron bureaucracy of post-Soviet intelligence. Drafted against her will to become a “Sparrow,” a trained seductress in the service, Dominika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash, a first-tour CIA officer who handles the CIA’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. The two young intelligence officers, trained in their respective spy schools, collide in a charged atmosphere of tradecraft, deception, and, inevitably, a forbidden spiral of carnal attraction that threatens their careers and the security of America’s most valuable mole in Moscow. Seeking revenge against her soulless masters, Dominika begins a fateful double life, recruited by the CIA to ferret out a high-level traitor in Washington; hunt down a Russian illegal buried deep in the US military and, against all odds, to return to Moscow as the new-generation penetration of Putin’s intelligence service. Dominika and Nathaniel’s impossible love affair and twisted spy game come to a deadly conclusion in the shocking climax of this electrifying, up-to-the minute spy thriller.

Red Sparrow is published by Scribner (North America) and Simon & Schuster (UK). At the time of writing, it is also on sale for Kindle in the US and UK. The second novel in the series, The Palace of Treason (US/UK), is also available. The third novel, The Kremlin’s Candidate, is due out in February 2018.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads

MatthewsJ-DE1-RedSparrow

New Books (February)

DisneyWizardBooks

Featuring: David Annandale, Jo Baker, Mishell Baker, David Baldacci, Elizabeth Bonesteel, Pierce Brown, Christopher Charles, Jessica Chiarella, Dan Cluchey, Max Allan Collins, John Connolly, Don DeLillo, S.B. Divya, Rachel Dunne, Mark Andrew Ferguson, Hadley Freeman, S.L. Grey, Lauren Groff, A.J. Hartley, Noah Hawley, Katie Heaney, Patrick Hemstreet, Mitchell Hogan, Lee Kelly, Shane Kuhn, Joe R. Lansdale, John Lansdale, Tim Lebbon, David Levien, Brian McClellan, Claire North, Willow Palecek, K.J. Parker, Bryony Pearce, Victor Pelevin, Molly Prentiss, Andy Remic, William Shatner, Mickey Spillane, Jo Spurrier, Allen Steele, Stuart Stevens, Alex Stewart, Jack Sutherland, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Marc Turner, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Teddy Wayne

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