Back to previous post: The Vanishing Gibson

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: The 12 Days of Kitschmas, 2007

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

November 27, 2007

New York Times to science books: Drop dead
Posted by Patrick at 10:20 AM * 121 comments

You probably didn’t notice, but sometime in the last few years, the New York Times restructured its annual “Notable Books” list, eliminating the genre subcategories. This was disappointing to those of us in the salt mines of category fiction; being deemed a “New York Times Notable Book” could be helpful to the paperback sales of some good SF and fantasy books that hadn’t sold well in hardcover. Mind you, the Times still occasionally includes a category book on their list, but just as we no longer have Gerald Jonas’s regular SF review column, our genre also no longer has a guaranteed five or six slots on the “Notable Books” list. Bummer.

Still, I can see arguments for the direction the Times has taken. What’s more remarkable, and harder to defend, is that—as Chad Orzel points out—the Times’s “100 Notable Books of 2007” contains not one single science book. There’s plenty of fiction, politics, public affairs, and “a memoir about waiting tables at the acclaimed Manhattan restaurant Per Se,” but not a single book about any aspect of science, not even a biography like Walter Isaacson’s widely-praised Einstein: His Life and Universe.

You can probably write your own viewing-with-alarm essay about this, complete with obligatory reference to C. P. Snow. All I can say is, what an impoverished mental landscape the people who drew up this list must inhabit.

Comments on New York Times to science books: Drop dead:
#1 ::: Andy Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 11:25 AM:

I personally think that science is being cast as the new statistics. Just like there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, now there's science, bad science, and "scientific study". Is global warming real? Some scientists say yes, some say no. Is evolution a theory or a fact? Does hexavalent chromium cause cancer?

For far too long the american public has been lead down the path to thinking that technology and theories are science. Understanding of the scientific method and its application is fairly low IMO, mostly because the majority of journalists don't understand what the scientific method is and thus have no clue what to report as science or politically motivated doctored results.

Just as evolution is reported as "a controversial theory" we have a government and seemingly a large population base that finds that the scientific method poses too many pointed questions about their established belief systems. While I doubt there is a serious conspiracy to eliminate science, I do not doubt that much of our population and government is comfortable encouraging people to think about it less.

#2 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 11:45 AM:

Snobs generally DO live in an impoverished mental landscape. I gave up on the NYT a long time ago...when I noticed, among other things, that their Science section was always bullshit when it was anything I knew about independently, and when they categorized a home costing a million dollars as "moderately priced" (or maybe it was "affordable").

So I'm not surprised their noses are in the air about "genre" fiction, and not valuing scientific rigor is the same as not valuing science (because without rigor, you wind up mistaking Young-Earth Creationism for science, which is like mistaking a sow's ear for a silk purse).

Noses in the air are a constant temptation to carry a squirt gun.

#3 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 11:56 AM:

Andy Smith @1 -

Theories, and the methods used to construct them, are the essence of science.

#4 ::: Cathy ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 11:58 AM:

I just reviewed the list an hour ago with an eye to making up an order list. I was amazed at how much I wasn't interested in buying (and this was for my library, not personally.) The fiction was well, blah and the non-fiction wasn't that much better. I ended up with much less than in previous years.

And the SF section of the PW list was a bit of a suprise as well. I hadn't read one, and haven't even heard of a few of them.

#5 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 12:02 PM:

"Math is hard. Let's go to the mall," but with a literary twist.

#6 ::: Dave MB ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 12:10 PM:

To be fair, there are two books on medicine. I consider medicine to be a branch of engineering (the application of scientific knowledge to useful results) rather than of science (the search for truth), but others might disagree.

Is the Hardy/Ramanujan novel any good?

#7 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 12:11 PM:

Along the lines of what Andy said above: let's say you're working for the Times as a book reviewer. You don't have a strong background in science, you don't understand the difference between good science writing and bad. And as time goes on, you feel increasingly *less* able to distinguish between the two -- science all seems like a lot of "he said, she said." So you take the easy way out -- you throw up your hands and just recommend the stuff that you feel like you understand.

Another, simpler explanation: The NY Times simply reflects the tastes of its upper-middle class audience in NYC, and said audience does not give a rat's ass about science and technology.** By contrast, if the (extremely mediocre) San Jose Mercury News did a list of 100 Notable Books for 2007, the chances of that list lacking any science books would be roughly zero. Austin, Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston, this wouldn't fly at all. But New York? I can totally see it.

** Some Making Light readers read the NY Times, and most Making Light readers are interested in science, but obviously we are not the audience the NY Times is catering to.

#8 ::: jean vpxi ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 12:43 PM:

This reminds me of a NY Post (I think) headline back in the 80s. I was just thinking of it the other day. It went "Reagan to New York City: Drop dead." Reagan wouldn't use fed funds to bail out NYC from a fiscal crisis. Is there a lineage of "Drop dead" headlines?

And... I can sympathize with lit reviewers not being qualified to judge science books, but surely they could get on the blower and call some eminent scientists for suggestions? Some of their own science writers? They could probably even find some books that have integrity but are interesting and well-written (and simple) enough for science-dummies like me to appreciate.

#9 ::: AHT ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 12:44 PM:

Xopher @ #2:

Frightening as it is, in many parts of the New York metro area, a million-dollar home is moderate. I grew up and still live (and am being priced out of) one of those neighborhoods. I enjoy the occasional science book myself, but judging from what I see my fellow commuters reading on the train, I'm in the minority.

#10 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 12:45 PM:

A few months ago I read a book titled The evolution of insects, and every chapter came headed with an appropriate poem -- good ones, and themed to the chapter.

It's been a long, long time (maybe never) since I saw a literary book with equations or scientific quotes as chapter headers, much less ones appropriate to the chapter.

There are two cultures, and one of them understands the other one. The other one doesn't.

#11 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 12:47 PM:

Has anyone read any of the books on Oprah's book list? (she still does it)...every one I've ever picked are horrible. Really and truly horrible stories with no hope in them at all.

The kind that leave you feeling icky...I'm sure they can't all be like that...but everytime I get curious I regret it.

#12 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 12:50 PM:

I think Andy @ 1 has it about right, with helpful amplification @ 7. But I don't see why the book editor can't find some college professor (surely there are one or two in NYC?) who can either recommend notable books, find a grad student who could write a review, or write it themselves. Laziness comes to mind, as well as a misunderstanding the responsibility of the newspaper of record to communicate noteworthy ideas.

Robertson Davies used the phrase "intellectual shut-ins" to describe these people, and that was 50 years ago.

#13 ::: JupiterPluvius ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 12:51 PM:

Well, let's do it here!

My favorite science book of 2007 was Baboon Metaphysics by Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth.

It's an engagingly written account of their years of work with wild baboon populations, exploring the baboons' cognitive and social patterns with a variety of experiments drawing on the traditions and protocols of the differing academic fields through which they came to primatology: Cheney started in biology, Seyfarth in psychology.

A great read all around.

#14 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 12:58 PM:

It's hard to believe the Times reviewers couldn't understand a book like The World Without Us, though (which I'm currently reading). There are still science books published regularly that are written very much for lay audiences, and that manage to be engaging and relevant to same.

#15 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:05 PM:

Some /d/a/m/n/ /l/i/e/s statistics:

There are 49 non-fiction entries, which I would roughly categorize as follows:

Biographies: 14
Memoirs: 10
Cultural Criticism/ge. Essays: 5
Music: 2
Medicine: 2
Religion: 2
History/Politics:
American: 7
WW II: 3
Other: 4

This is a little sloppy, as one each of the medicine and religion books could just as well be filed under "politics". A quick glance at the lists for previous years yields similar proportions, though here and there a book of speculative cosmology is let through as well.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:06 PM:

I'm torn. I think Patrick has a point (especially when one of the notable books is Tina Brown's contribution to the Diana industry, save the mark), and the NYT ought to pay attention to good science writing (as well as to good genre fiction).

On the other hand, one of the *notable books* is the Selected Poems of Derek Walcott edited by Eddie Baugh, and I think that's an excellent choice.

#17 ::: jayskew ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:11 PM:

NYTimes won't even publish facts when they might be politically inconvenient:

http://www.bradblog.com/?p=5260

Why would you expect them to publish anything about science?

#18 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:17 PM:

Is there some reason the NYT can't have its science writers come up with a list? If the classical music critics can come up with recommended recordings, then surely their science specialists can do similar. For that matter, why isn't there a science book review column in the weekly science section?

#19 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:26 PM:

In #8, jean vpxi writes:

This reminds me of a NY Post (I think) headline back in the 80s. I was just thinking of it the other day. It went "Reagan to New York City: Drop dead." Reagan wouldn't use fed funds to bail out NYC from a fiscal crisis. Is there a lineage of "Drop dead" headlines?

Yes, there is. A lineage of one, anyway.

#20 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:26 PM:

Something else that stands out in comparing this year with the last: the Bush administration has conspicuously fallen off the map. Well, last year they were practicaly obsessed with it, but still....

#21 ::: Ken Burnside ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:29 PM:

I make a good chunk of my income as a writer doing the following:

"Simple Simon" summaries of patents so patent holders can market them to financiers.

Science popularizations for a couple of regional papers.

Reviews of technologies for online sources (mostly cell phones, sometimes astronomy gear).

...and I also write games for a living, where I sell rocket science as something cool and fun to do when channeling your inner 14-year old hunter-gatherer who wants to kill things.

I have never been impressed with the NYT's science coverage.

A few too many incidents like this:

"Well, if we plug in all the variables and dial them up to their maximum values in the model, based off of temperature rises from weather stations and ignoring remote proxy data, the Earth will experience a climate change of 104 degrees C by 2100. Among other things, this would boil the seas. Fortunately there are data sets that ameliorate this, but clearly the models need some refinement."

getting quoted as this:

"Well, if we plug in temperature rises from weather stations, the Earth will rise in temperature by 104 degrees C, boiling the seas. Clearly, the models need refinement."

Every word in the second quote appears in the first. They're given in the same order.

If those seem hauntingly familiar, the author of the quotes is Dr. Reid Bryson, and those are reasonably close examples of what he claims to have said and what was actually printed, when he was interviewed in 2004.

I did a follow-up interview with Dr. Bryson after he raised a ruckus about being quoted out of context. There was never a retraction printed by the paper.

If you're lucky, you get someone who's enthusiastic about science, and can ask novice level questions.

If you're stunningly lucky, you get someone who can follow calculus, statistical means, and chi squares, if you go slowly and let them sound out the big words.

Unfortunately, writers who can don't stick around for long - the pay in engineering and technical writing is better than in science journalism.

Most times, the science writer is the guy who's new to the publication, working the "George" jobs and can't wait until he gets something better paying. He comes to the interview armed with a lot of Google printouts that he can't make hide nor hair of, and asks you to translate.

In all cases, it's not unreasonable to be terrified of what pre-conceptions the interviewer has that he hasn't bothered to tell you, and to be on the watch for someone trying to make the Big Splash story so they can build a rep and move on to something that pays better, like the Paris Hilton Lingerie Patrol.

#22 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:30 PM:

Xopher #2: I've noticed the same thing--popular media covering science usually get all the details wrong, the implications wrong, the sides in the controversies wrong. Sometimes they do spell the names right, though.

The web, and particularly blogs, have broken me of trying to get science coverage from any standard media source. Watch some journalism major with one semester of barely-passed stat try to explain the meaning of a medical study, or go find a researcher in the field explaining it in detail, your choice.

Jupiter #13: I don't know its year of publication, but the book _Evolutionary Dynamics_ is amazingly good as an introduction to a lot of the mathematics behind biology, without assuming much more than you'd get as a CS or engineering undergrad. I felt like it was exactly the right book to read when I read it, though I probably should go back through it sometime and see what parts I missed. But it's a lot more like reading a well-written interesting textbook than like a casual once-through read.

Axelrod's _The Evolution of Cooperation_ is wonderful, though it came out several years ago. Game theory meets evolution meets real-world applications. Despite the math content, this didn't seem to me to be a hard book to get through at all--the underlying ideas are mostly pretty simple, and while they're mathematical, you can get them without any mathematical notation or background, I think.

I liked Pinker's _The Blank Slate_, but wished he could have spent less time taking shots at his academic enemies and more time telling me about his field. _How The Mind Works_ was also pretty good.

Judith Rich Harris' _No Two Alike_ was fascinating, but I thought she did a much better job of explaining what wasn't known than making a case for her own ideas. (And like Pinker, she had a few swipes to take at academic enemies; this is probably interesting to her, but not to me.) That was published in the last couple years.

Dawkins' _The Selfish Gene_ is a pretty justifiably famous book. I also liked _The Extended Phenotype_, though it wasn't very cohesive--more like three or four ideas wrapped together, with the broad connection of how you can have genes whose real effect is on a completely different organism of a different species. Both of these are fairly old.

Other recommendations/ideas? I'm noting that none of these are in my field, since I mostly read the literature in my field and textbooks/overviews of closely related fields. (For example, Soloman's book on Data Compression is great, but it ain't exactly light reading!)

#23 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:37 PM:

OTOH, I'm not so certain that losing Jonas's contributions was as awful as it seems at first glance. His reviews seldom showed much perception, and the scope of what he reviewed was far too narrow. The purported replacement isn't any better (in fact, it's arguably worse), which is a potential problem... but not one unexpected, given the prejudices of the current editor of the NYTBR.

As an aside, the NYT used to have a policy that it would not name a book written by a staff member as a Notable Book (I simply don't know if it has continued under the current editor). Since at least two of the paper's regular science writers had books published in 2007, might this be directly or indirectly influencing the list?

#24 ::: D. Eppstein ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:42 PM:

Michelle #11: One Hundred Years of Solitude is on Oprah's list. That's the only one I've knowingly read (and I only remember that one because it says so prominently on the cover of the edition I have), but that suffices to show that the books she picks are not all losers, I think.

#25 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:47 PM:

The explanation for the lack of science books on the list is simple--no one at the Times has actualy read one of the entries on their non-fiction list: How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.

#26 ::: Cynthia ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:51 PM:

#11: Stones from the River, which I received as a gift from an Oprah devotee who didn't know much about me beyond the fact that I like books, turned out to be a surprisingly good read. It isn't something I would have sought out on my own, but I'm glad it was brought to my attention.

I sometimes think Oprah picks her books to challenge the viewership -- there was the whole, "Let's all read Faulkner" kick a few years ago that had legions of very earnest blondes looking puzzled in nearby parks while their kids toddled nearby.

(I am sure the hair color was wholly irrelevant here, they were just all very, very blonde, as if half a dozen Swedes somehow relocated to upstate NY)

[/tangent]

#27 ::: JupiterPluvius ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:54 PM:

Yay, albatross@22! I'm surprised more people aren't taking up the gauntlet here.

paul@12, I politely suggest you're mistaken. The poems of Marianne Moore, the novels of Rebecca Goldstein, new novels by scientists like Janna Fisher and Alan Lightman... David Leavitt's highly-publicized new novel about Hardy and Ramanujan...the much-pushed first novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl...there's a lot out there you haven't noticed.

The novel I've just finished has a marine biologist as its protagonist, and there are a lot of vignettes from the life of rotifers in it!

I'm not a scientist: the last science courses I took were the two required "science for non-scientist" lectures in college (though those were taught by Stephen Jay Gould and Nobelist William Lipscomb, so they were pretty heady stuff!) But I love to read about science nonetheless.

More of my science "Notable Books of 2007":

Making Up the Mind by Chris Frith;

The Accidental Mind by David Linden;

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf;

A New Human by Mike Morwood and Penny van Oosterzee (a fascinating first-hand account of the exacavation of H. florensis, the "Hobbit" anthropoid fossils).

Come on, I know other people here read Notable Science Books in 2007! Gimme, gimme!

#28 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:58 PM:

Has anyone read any of the books on Oprah's book list? (she still does it)...every one I've ever picked are horrible. Really and truly horrible stories with no hope in them at all.

Actually her taste doesn't seem to be all that bad, although she could use a few Hugo-award winners:

http://www2.oprah.com/obc/pastbooks/obc_pastdate.jhtml

#29 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 01:59 PM:

Michelle @ 11, I read "The Time Traveler's Wife" and loved it and only later discovered that it was an Oprah book (the copy I picked up in England lacked an Oprah sticker). It has some sadness, but also hope. Now it's one of my favorite books.

#30 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 02:11 PM:

The World Without Us, as mentioned above, is really good, except for the last chapter, where the author drifts off into Lala land, talking about Jesus and the Rapture. It felt weirdly tacked on, as if he decided there was just too much sense and good science being discussed and we needed some Fox News Brand Balance in the form of fantasy for zealots.

So, skip the last chapter and you've got a great book.

Most of the other science books I've read this year were published in previous years but really, who can go wrong with some of Stephen Jay Gould's essay collections? Bully For Brontosaurus!

#31 ::: Laurie D. T. Mann ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 02:14 PM:

I haven't read very much this year, but I liked Devra Davis' The Secret History of the War on Cancer very much. There are a few facts wrong here and there, but it's pretty strong otherwise.

#32 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 02:53 PM:

The NYT doesn't understand books, period. I stopped reading something in the Arts section a week or so back because it started out talking about the "Sisyphean" battle that books are "waging" against Facebook and American Idol (their primary examples of eeeeevil pop culture, I guess). No one reads anymore!!!

Nonsense. More people read now than ever before. More people are literate now than ever before. The real problem the snoots have is that the snooty class is shrinking in relative influence. There's obviously a difference in scale, but it reminds me of white straight men who complain about how they're losing all their rights when really what's happening is that other people are starting to gain some rights.

#33 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 02:59 PM:

Jerome Groopman's book could be considered a science book, I suppose.

I really recommend Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories. His thesis is basically: everything you (think) you know (about cholesterol, fat, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity) is wrong. It's quite a challenge to those of us who have been living with the current medical paradigm for treatment of heart disease.

#34 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 03:06 PM:

As it happens, I was referring to Oprah's book list for work today*. Three of the more recent selections are personal favorites of mine: Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude, both by Gabriel Garc&iaccute;a Márquez, and Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton.

We've been discussing The Time Traveller's Wife over in the MySpace Suicide Thread, in the list of books some of us find too painful to ever read again. I find some scenes in it almost excruciating to look back on.

I should add the NYT book list to our test data. Then maybe the books they should have included.

-----
* We're adding a feature that will allow librarians and library patrons to tag books and create sharable lists of books. Oprah books, like Hugo winners and Pride and Prejudice adaptations and sequels**, are realistic test data.

** Did you know there's a series of "Mr and Mrs Darcy mysteries" by Carrie Bebris? Pride and Prescience, Suspense and Sensibility and North by Northanger. No idea if they're even readable, but good titles...†

† Have I mentioned lately that I love having a job which lets me play with this kind of information? Oh, I have? Right. Well, I still do.

#35 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 03:08 PM:

It's the New York Times, the newspaper of fawning servitute to the Bush administration that let Judy Miller lie the US into the War on Iraq: what do you expect?

#36 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 03:16 PM:

me @34:
I see the Mr and Mrs Darcy mysteries are published by Tor. So I'm sure they're absolutely fantastic in every respect.

#37 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 03:46 PM:

I have on my TBR stack a book that may or may not be considered science, but it's the sort of read that I love:

Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature

#38 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 03:47 PM:

I have Suspense & Sensibility - it's definitely readable, and rather good. It's not Austen, but that's not meant as a criticism, and it's good enough that I shelved it next to the Austen. The closest analogy I can think of is Sorcery & Cecilia, though of course without the pervasive magic. The only reason I don't have the others is because they don't turn up randomly on bookshop shelves very much.

#39 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 03:53 PM:

Is there any reason to believe that the Ochs-Sulzberger publishing family has an anti-science political agenda?

#40 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 03:59 PM:

Abi... You asked for it.

Blackadder the Third:


Dish & Dishonesty
Ink & Incapability
Nob & Nobility
Sense & Senility
Amy & Amiability
Duel & Duality

#41 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 04:03 PM:

Serge @40:
I know those ones, naturally. But unless Baldrick dresses up better than, say, Percy in Blackadder The Second, we don't have a very good Elizabeth + Fitzwilliam couple.

#42 ::: Steve Roby ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 04:05 PM:

(Apology in advance for the drift away from science books...)

Readers' expectations are a funny thing. My wife and I found the first Carrie Bebris novel in a local bookstore. The back cover mentions Georgette Heyer, Stephanie Barron, Nick and Nora Charles, and of course Jane Austen, making it sound like something we'd both enjoy.

Funny how the book cover doesn't say anything about Mrs. Darcy solving crimes with her psychic powers. We went in with a mystery reader's expectations and found something playing by a very different set of rules. We haven't felt any need to buy the other books.

#43 ::: Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 04:07 PM:

I've read Pride and Prescience and, like Sam Kelly, found it readable, but it didn't send me running back to the library shelves for the second book, either. I really disliked the way she depicted the relationship between Liz and Darcy.

However, my taste in that matter is rather different than most Austenophiles, I believe. I have one friend, for example, with whom (by mutual agreement) I cannot discuss the BBC P&P miniseries, in fear that such a discussion would cause a permanent falling out between us.

#44 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 04:11 PM:

Abi @ 41... That is true. Coming soon...

"Abi and Abilities"
#45 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 05:07 PM:

#34 re: the Bebris "Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries"

I've read the entire series so far -- having somewhat of a peculiar fascination for the "Austen fan-fic" that's being put out by various publishers these days. I agree with Steve in #42 that when first encountering the series it felt like a touch of bait-and-switch where I bought what I thought was a literary-historic mystery but ended up reading a supernatural mystery. The supernatural elements feel like a very artificial introduction, given that they don't spring out of anything in the original source. I haven't decided (in my cynicism) whether the supernatural bits were Bebris's way of "branding" her P&P series as distinct from all the other Austen fan-fic, or whether the use of the Pride & Prejudice overlay was her way of marketing some otherwise rather awkward and undistinguished supernatural mysteries. All in all, I found them entertaining in a fluffy way, but not emotionally satisfying either as Austen take-offs or as historic mysteries.

#46 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 05:15 PM:

When I see a protagonist surnamed "Darcy" in the context of mysteries with a fantasy element, I immediately think of Randall Garrett's Lord D'Arcy.

"Mr. and Mrs." Darcy? Surely you mean "Lord and Lady"?

The disappointment for me would be to find magic not incorporated, and the Plantagenets not still ruling the British Empire.

#47 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 05:29 PM:

abi @ #36:
I see the Mr and Mrs Darcy mysteries are published by Tor. So I'm sure they're absolutely fantastic in every respect.

Even Tor publishes some things which I find, shall we say, differently readable. After finishing a Tor novel set on the My Little P/o/n/y Pastel Unicorn Planet last week (out of some misguided sense of guilt/politeness) I wanted to go exfoliate my brain.

#48 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 05:31 PM:

Pyre @ #46:
I had the same thought until I tracked up the thread a bit for context.


#49 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 05:35 PM:

Susan @47:

There may have been a certain amount of sarcasm in that comment. Maybe. The precise amount probably varies by reader.

#50 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 05:43 PM:

Not Reagan, Ford. "Ford to City: Drop Dead".

#51 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 08:32 PM:

Tony Zbaraschuk at #10: The observations you report in your first two paragraphs are no doubt accurate, but they do not provide evidence for or against any of the three assertions you make in the third.

#52 ::: JupiterPluvius ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 10:36 PM:

Sylvia@51: They're accurate insofar as they are an observation of what Tony has read (or remembers reading).

My observations differ.

Now, I'm just an unfrozen cavewoman novelist, but I think the scientific mind needs to do better than "I haven't seen X, therefore X does not exist." Yes?

Also, NEEDS MOAR SCIENCE BOOK SUGGESTIONS (and less discussion of the truly horrible Psychic!Austen series of books that I can only assume Tor publishes as a cash cow, or because the author saved the Doherty family from a burning building, or as part of some kind of international spy ring in which sekrit messages are sent through the pages of these dreadful pseudo-books).

I nag because I care. See, it's fun to complain about how horrible the NYTBR is, but we could probably put together a list of 100 Notable Science Books of 2007 if we put our collective minds to it. And that would be not only fun, but actually useful to others.

#53 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 10:57 PM:

Jupiter @ 52: Indeed--I too am in the liberal arts and clearly need more practice in defining my terms with precision. (I don't quite remember the last time I saw a novel with an equation for a chapter heading either [I'm guessing there are probably some in Illuminatus...], though I did learn Fermat's Last Theorem from Tom Stoppard.)

Seconding the request for good science book recs.

#54 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 11:26 PM:

Pyre at 46: Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy was not a "lord," although he was an aristocrat -- that is, his family were aristocrats. So it's Mr. and Mrs.

#55 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2007, 11:46 PM:

Seconding the request for good science book recs.

The best science book I read this year was The Theory of Almost Everything by Robert Oerter, which explains and celebrates the Standard Model of particle physics. It's a 2006 book, new in paperback this year.

David Lindley's Uncertainty is an excellent book about the early days of quantum mechanics, and the philosophical, personal, and scientific issues involved.

I liked Natalie Angier's The Canon a lot, but the reception has been rather mixed. A lot of people think she's trying way too hard to be witty, but it worked for me.

#56 ::: torie ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 12:10 AM:

The NYT science page is hilariously bad in almost every regard. A friend and I keep a running tally of Worst NYT Science Reporting Ever (she's a biochemist and lab technician). It doesn't surprise me in the least that they couldn't recognize a good science book even if it hit them square in the chest.

My personal favorite article on the NYT science page include the one about how SOME scientists think that MAYBE there COULD HAVE BEEN possibly one big continent called Pangaea. BREAKING NEWS! This was a few years ago.

But truly, nothing compares to John Tierney. I have no idea how this man got to be in charge--he has no science background whatsoever, in case you couldn't tell by his blog.

#57 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 12:10 AM:

Come on, Patrick, don't be so hard on them. They're probably still working through the science books from 1998.

#58 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 12:49 AM:

Pyre, #46: Word. I really wish Michael Kurland would write some more Lord Darcy pastiches, because IMO he had a very good handle on both the world and the characters.

(And I just recognized another good thing about LibraryThing. Once I've got everything loaded into it, I won't have to get up and walk to the other end of the house any more when I'm blanking on an author's name!)

#59 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 01:08 AM:

I have some reason to think that poor newspaper coverage of science is partly explicable by the tendency to recruit people with QUALIFICATIONS.

And a newspaper wants a journalism degree, not a science degree.

Even for a job described as "trainee".

#60 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 01:56 AM:

I Googled for "2007 science books" and got lots of hits. Here's Washington University's Biology Library's list.

Isaacson's Einstein book is there, as is Chris Mooney's Global Warming book. There's one with a title which should resonate here: Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love by Lynn Margulis, and about 20 more.

#61 ::: Porlock Junior ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 02:58 AM:

Here's a nomination:
The Prism and the Pendulum: The ten most beautiful experiments in science. By Robert P. Crease. It doesn't belong on this year's list, being four years old, but that doesn't seem to be a deterrent in this thread.

It's about how science really got done, with plenty of human interest like what a total weirdo genius Thomas Young was. The author knows an enormous amount, and understands it, and gets it right.

While we're up: Anybody wanna recommend really good bookstores for browsing for science? I bought this because I saw it at the store in the Field Museum in Chicago, which has not degraded its bookstore to the Gifte Shoppe level that most museums have reached in their race to the bottom. Any other good places?

#62 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 04:23 AM:

Tehanu @54:
Pyre was wishing that the Darcys in question were not Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth, but Lord Darcy and some unknown but interesting wife, from Randall Garret's alternate history magical murder myseries. (Good ones, too.)

in general:

On consideration, no matter how delightful I find them, I don't think the Darcys make very plausible detectives.

Neither of them showed any ability to accurately read other people or form reliable judgments on their characters. Not only did the couple manage to completely misread one another, but they each failed to understand at least one minor character (Darcy's perception that Jane did not care very deeply for Bingley, Lizzie's initial preference for Wickham.) Unless they're portrayed as the slightly bumbling sleuths who find the murderer by sheer luck, I'm not convinced I would believe in them.

On the other hand, I would love to read about the detective exploits of Captain* and Mrs Wentworth. She has all the insight into character, he all the impulse to action; together they would make a wonderful team. And his naval career would give rich scope for adventure.

-----
* Later Admiral, no doubt

#63 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 05:04 AM:

#54 Tehanu: Whether Mr Darcy was an aristocrat or not would depend on definition. As you rightly point out, he was not a peer, nor even a knight, but simply a private gentleman, a commoner, albeit a landed and wealthy one. That, of course, puts him well into the upper class for Georgian England, but still he could be reasonably held to be in the same class as Miss Bennett herself, and only separated by greater estate. If he is in that class, is he an aristocrat? As opposed to, say, Lady de Burgh?

#64 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 06:37 AM:

Abi @ 62...What about Lady Catherine de Burgh as a detective? She's always sticking her nose into other people's affairs.

#65 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 07:29 AM:

This week's NY Times Magazine featured a long, respectful piece about Creationist geology. It's a legitimate subject for them to be covering, and the author did end up with a geology department at a Christian university that took a more conventional view, but I wish there were more real science featured.

#66 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 08:45 AM:

Is Jane Austen the cricket of literary conversation?

#67 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 08:55 AM:

Sadly, this has made me realize that I haven't read a science book all year other than statistics and social-science things for work. My leisure reading has tended toward the escapist, going no deeper than a few light biographies. I do read Science News and science-related articles and essays in other magazines.

Porlock Junior @61 asked about bookstores for science browsing. Reiters Books, now at 20th & K streets in DC, is a great scientific & technical bookstore. See www.reiters.com Lots of textbooks and handbooks, but also general-interest reading and a nice selection of science books for kids

#68 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 09:40 AM:

I'm going to dissent a little from the glib NYT-bashing and suggest that their science section is -- by the standards of print journalism, let alone broadcast journalism -- pretty good. I don't find everything they publish to be "bullshit" when I actually know the science involved, and the writers at least some of the time make an effort to talk to other scientists, so that you get something more than the standard "regurgitated university press release" that passes for science journalism in many other places.

And some of their writers are top notch -- Carl Zimmer, for example. (Of course, it may be meaningful that the Science section publishes articles by free-lancers like Zimmer in addition to full-time staff writers.)


The NYT science page is hilariously bad in almost every regard. A friend and I keep a running tally of Worst NYT Science Reporting Ever (she's a biochemist and lab technician). It doesn't surprise me in the least that they couldn't recognize a good science book even if it hit them square in the chest.

Since the list of books was drawn up by the Book Review staff, from among those books that were reviewed in the NYTBR, I doubt anyone from the Science page staff was ever consulted.

#69 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 09:41 AM:

#65: "Creationist geology"?

Why not say "magical physics", or "supernatural astronomy", or "the biochemistry of the undead"?

No, I'm sorry. I don't mean to imply that you actually mean to give respectability to this nonsense. But even using the term with a straight face gives oxygen to it. It has a connotation of moving the battle on to their ground.

Refuse to do it. Geology is a respectable science, based on evidence. Creationism is a crackpot notion based on nothing but ignorance, arrogance and lies. No good can come of conflating them.

#70 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 09:45 AM:

My tastes in science writing tend toward medicine and biology. Recent favorites:

The Face in the Mirror by Keenan, Gallup and Falk
Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
Why We Run by Bernd Heinrich

I find Science News and Natural History to be good sources for (brief) reviews of new science books. (WARNING: I have no science background except several decades of reading Sacks, Gould, and the aforementioned magazines!)

abi @ #34 et al: I read Pride and Prescience and agree that the psychic stuff was jarring and the characterization unconvincing. The book that really scratched my Austen itch was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

abi @ #62, re the Wentworths: Word. You write 'em, I'll read 'em.

#71 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 09:45 AM:

The one nf book on the list that I'd read, Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece by Joan Breton Connelly, was actually quite interesting, even if you could only dub it "speculative archaeology". (It's a topic that interests me at present, though I don't have much time to look into it.)

The best response I've seen to the current anti-science trend is an article in the October issue of Seed: "Dr. President" by Chris Mooney. This is the first issue I've seen, and the mag's overall layout is too scattershot/trendy for me, but the piece is an excellent diatribe against the current administration, strongly advocating a return to the science-savvy presidents of the (relatively distant) past.

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 09:52 AM:

Lila @ 70... The book that really scratched my Austen itch was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

I understand that Naomi Novik's dragon books do that too. Sort of.

#73 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 10:02 AM:

I dunno, Serge. I would have said that it isn't the Austen itch so much as the O'Brien one - or, if you like, the Aubrey itch. Novik has the trick - perhaps not so well-developed, but there nevertheless - of making her characters think, speak and move like people from the Napoleonic period. That is, if those people were faced with a totally novel technology and radical, but necessary, change to polite society. Female dragon-riders! Women in trousers! Heavens! But they still sound right.

A great achievement, I thought.

#74 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 10:21 AM:

Peter Erwin, #68: I'm going to dissent a little from the glib NYT-bashing and suggest that their science section is -- by the standards of print journalism, let alone broadcast journalism -- pretty good. I don't find everything they publish to be "bullshit" when I actually know the science involved, and the writers at least some of the time make an effort to talk to other scientists, so that you get something more than the standard "regurgitated university press release" that passes for science journalism in many other places.

Me too.

I follow the Times science coverage via their RSS feeds (which has the nice bonus effect of giving me the non-decaying permalink right off), and while they don't cover enough physics for my tastes, I think they generally do a good job. Some of their writers-- Chang, Overbye, Angier-- are reliably excellent, and they're not just doing a cut-and-paste job on stuff from the press office of the institution funding the work.

#75 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 10:27 AM:

I'm behind on my reading for this year, so I can't really offer any personal recommendations for general/popular science books published in 2007. (I quite liked Carl Zimmer's At the Water's Edge, but that was published back in 1998.)

But for what it's worth, here are some other people's recommendations:

Royal Society Prize for Science Books, 2007 nominees:
Chris String, Homo Britannicus
Eric R. Kanel, In Search of Memory
Henry Nicholls, Lonesome George
Adam Wishart, One in Three
Daneil Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness (winner)
Robert Henson, The Rough Guide to Climate Changes

A science librarian mentions a few 2007 lists here, including ones from Publisher's Weekly and Amazon.com. (And there are a few book reviews of his own as well, if you scroll down.) Interestingly, he dings the Canadian trade magazine Quill & Quire for being just as neglectful of science books this year as the NYTBR was.

I think the suggested list from Nature hasn't appeared yet, unfortunately; we'll have to wait a couple of weeks. (Here's Nature's list for 2006.)

#76 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 10:31 AM:

Dave Luckett @ 73...I stand corrected. I've got the books, but haven't gotten around to reading them yet. Hopefully that will happen before Peter Jackson's movie adaptations start coming out.

#77 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 11:01 AM:

Thread connection. Looking up the Reiters bookstore I mentioned above, I ended up browsing their companion site, Washington Law, which has books on (duh) law, economics, etc. And ran across the mention of a new book that might be of interest to the group. The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet by Daniel J. Solove. Can't vouch for it, as I haven't read it, but the publisher's description reads:

Teeming with chatrooms, online discussion groups, and blogs, the Internet offers previously unimagined opportunities for personal expression and communication. But there’s a dark side to the story. A trail of information fragments about us is forever preserved on the Internet, instantly available in a Google search. A permanent chronicle of our private lives—often of dubious reliability and sometimes totally false—will follow us wherever we go, accessible to friends, strangers, dates, employers, neighbors, relatives, and anyone else who cares to look. This engrossing book, brimming with amazing examples of gossip, slander, and rumor on the Internet, explores the profound implications of the online collision between free speech and privacy.

Link to book on Reiters/Washington Law site

#78 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 11:29 AM:

Dave @ #73:
Novik has the trick - perhaps not so well-developed, but there nevertheless - of making her characters think, speak and move like people from the Napoleonic period.

Move, not so much. She blew it in the third book at least once.

(I still liked the books an awful lot, though I live in nervous terror of what she will do if she writes dance scenes in any more detail, and am trying to convince Balticon that they really want a Temeraire-universe alternaRegency ball next year.)

#80 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 12:06 PM:

I suggested upthread that the NYT science section needed to review books. Imagine my embarrassment when I started through yesterday's offering and discovered--yes--a book review. Is this new, or have I just never noticed?

#81 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 12:28 PM:

Is it possible for a writer, no matter how good she (or he) is, to make a reader accurately visualize what he (or she) has never seen - for example, a specific dance, or a swordfight's unique moves?

#82 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 12:29 PM:

Susan, was it just the dancing in Temeraire? Most of the books seemed okay to me, but what I know of Napoleonic culture is unrelentingly naval, and not a bit nonfictional.

#83 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 12:41 PM:

Dave, #69: Hear, hear! I know, from reading this blog, that by and large the kind of people who hang out here understand that language matters. Ceding ground to the Armies Of The Night in that area only makes it harder to defeat them elsewhere. Creationism should NEVER be mentioned in the same breath with science, except as a compare-and-contrast.

#84 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 12:42 PM:

Is it possible for a writer, no matter how good she (or he) is, to make a reader accurately visualize what he (or she) has never seen - for example, a specific dance, or a swordfight's unique moves?

I don't think a writer needs or even wants to do this - the imagination can supply the moves if the writer gives the general feel of things. And adding too many details means you run afoul of obsessives like me who can spot the problems. If you want to do details, you need to do the background work to do accurate details.

I usually tell authors who want fast advice (as opposed to long, wonky lectures) to just avoid putting in details, and they will dramatically reduce their chances of becoming one of my examples of People Who Didn't Do Their Dance Research or People Who Have Never Actually Walked in a Long Dress or People Who Have Never Worn a Corset or....

#85 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 01:15 PM:

Dave #69:

Aw, c'mon! I want to read about undead biochemistry! ("Holy water is so dangerous because it blocks the spook-1 receptors of undead cells, whick allows some of the undead cells to spontaneously restart biological processes and become normal living cells, which of course is lethal to undead organisms.")

#86 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 01:19 PM:

albatross, when I get home I'll post the thing I wrote once about the biology of three different types of vampires.

#87 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 01:33 PM:

Is Jane Austen the cricket of literary conversation?

The young Jane Austen preferred cricket and baseball to traditional girls’ games.

Is Jane Austen playing cricket ___ of ___ conversation?

#88 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 02:09 PM:

#84: In total agreement. Give the reader enough to fill in the blanks. Give more only if you've done the research, and the story needs it.

I've read stories where people climb where if the writer has climbed or researched climbing, it's not evident on the page. Elizabeth Bear learned how to climb because a character she's writing is a climber. I think that's totally cool.

There's a caveat within this caveat though. I climb differently from my comic book character shaped climbing partner. (e.g., I'm in awe of his reach and strength. He rags on me when I pull myself up the rock.) If the character looks like someone out of a comic book (i.e., tall, broad-shouldered for his height, well-muscled), but climbs like me, I'm likely to get annoyed.

#89 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 02:11 PM:

C. Wingate @66:
Is Jane Austen the cricket of literary conversation?

Perhaps. It beats being the Mornington Crescent of literary conversation*.

Lila @70:

I will leave The Wentworths Investigate to abler pens than mine.

-----
* An honor reserved for James Joyce

#90 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 02:24 PM:

Susan @ 84... just avoid putting in details, and they will dramatically reduce their chances of becoming one of my examples of People Who Didn't Do Their Dance Research

Thanks. Also, it kills the pace of the story.

#91 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 02:52 PM:

Neil Willcox @ 87... Hmm... Didn't Austen die almost 30 years before the earliest known version of baseball?

#92 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 03:03 PM:

Serge@91: It was the *undead*, zombie Jane Austen that played baseball. Death being eternal, thirty years is pretty young for a zombie.

#93 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 03:06 PM:

mjfgates @ 92... And zombie Jane eventually wrote (or at least she shuffled the pages around) of Pride (of the Yankees) and Pre-jaundice?

#94 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 03:06 PM:

Serge @ #91:
No, not by decades (or centuries, depending on how loosely one defines baseball). But the cited webpage has mistaken Jane for one of her heroines, I suspect:

from Northanger Abbey:

Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her children everything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books -- or at least books of information -- for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.

I don't know of any direct information regarding Jane's preferences in recreation (other than some of her references to dancing and parlor games in her letters), but I haven't really looked.

#95 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 04:20 PM:

My favorite science book in 2007 was "I Am a Strange Loop" by Douglas Hofstadter. This despite my pique at having to wait a year after its original scheduled publication date for it to come out. Now I realize that Hofstadter is one of those scientists who pisses off about half of his colleagues, and one of those writers who sends half of his readers off into corners mumbling about wacked-out nonsense. So I'll just say that if you like him and/or respect him as either a writer or a scientist, you'll enjoy this book, and if you've ever thought about the nature of consciousness, this book will challenge your ideas, and maybe make you think about the question some more.

As far as respect goes, I have some training in AI, which is Hofstadter's area of expertise, and I've read all of his books and a number of his technical papers, as well as some of his students' work. I think he has a knack for asking interesting and useful questions, and a way of explaining the answers he's found that is highly entertaining, even if you don't find it persuasive. And he has a sense for elegance and subtlety in his research that I find exciting.

#96 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 04:52 PM:

Porlock Jr. @ 61

The second-best bookstore I've ever found for browsing science books is Powell's main store in downtown Portland. The have a huge* selection of new and used books, mostly popular or semi-popular, shelved by major subject: General Science and Technology, Astronomy, Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, and Nature.

The best book store is the Powell's Technical Book Store, three blocks away. It carries some of the general books the main store carries, but has a lot of much more specialized technical titles. They also have physical copies of the books offered in the Springer Verlag Yellow and Green sales at the end of every year. And a truly huge selection of computer-related books. I go there at least three or four times a year and spend a couple of hours roaming the store and leafing through books about General Relativity, Computer Character Animation, and the Geometry of Complex Polytopes.

Of course the biggest problem is not buying $1000 worth of books every time I go in there. For awhile there, when I had more time to read**, I was typically buying more than $500 worth of books a year, and that was being highly selective. Although, at $40 to $80 per average in the mid-90's, that wasn't a lot of books. It's an expensive hobby.

* "gargantuan" might be a better term.
** and more money to spend

#97 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 04:59 PM:

Susan #94: Waitwaitwait. If Austen *wrote* "cricket, baseball, riding on horseback...", then she HAD to know about something called "baseball." I might not recognize the thing that she calls "baseball", but she obviously meant SOMETHING by the word-- she wasn't Shakespeare, after all.

Though I still do like the idea of a hideous, undead Jane Austen strolling about the diamond, devouring the brains of an occasional player while talking about who should be inviting whom over for tea.

#98 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 05:00 PM:

Susan @ 94... not by decades (or centuries, depending on how loosely one defines baseball)

Thanks for the clarification about Austen. As for baseball, I was wondering if it might be a reference to baseball's ancestors, or to something totally different from which modern baseball stole its name.

#99 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 05:02 PM:

Serge #81:

I was always impressed by Heinlein's description of Oscar's duel with the Eater of Souls in _Glory Road_. I've written a scene that makes use of a similar technique (although different moves and a different POV) to describe a duel.

#100 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 05:15 PM:

mjfgates @ #97:
Waitwaitwait. If Austen *wrote* "cricket, baseball, riding on horseback...", then she HAD to know about something called "baseball." I might not recognize the thing that she calls "baseball", but she obviously meant SOMETHING by the word-- she wasn't Shakespeare, after all.

Well of course she meant something, and what exactly she meant is a topic for sports historians, of which I am not one. It wouldn't have been precisely the same game as modern baseball, but there were certainly close ancestors of the game in her era.

But it's a big jump from knowing baseball existed or even knowing something about it to having it reported as a pastime she preferred to more girly pursuits or even indulged in at all. That's the (non)logical jump I'm complaining about.

I could write a sentence about cricket and baseball in a novel if I felt like it (and if I were writing a novel), but you may be 100% certain I have never played either, nor had any desire to.

#101 ::: flowery tops ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 05:40 PM:

abi @ 62:
I rather like to imagine Elizabeth's aunt and uncle turning to detection.

#102 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 05:41 PM:

Joann @ #99 -

The swordfight between Oscar and Eater of Souls wasn't bad, but I found myself getting a bit lost in the fencing terms he used to describe it. To much secunde and riposte and I get piste.

My favorite scene in Glory Road was the battle with Igli, as they fed it to itself. I'd love to see a good CGI of that.

#103 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 06:01 PM:

I think it will be necessary to tie up two (or more) of the major threads in these comments by the publication of the undead J. Austen's opus on MRI imaging studies of changes in the cerebral cortex due to strong emotional experiences -- I believe it will be titled Science and Sensibility. (The particular medical field was, perhaps, a natural for one with an obsession with braaaaaiiiiiiinnnsss.)

#104 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 06:54 PM:

Steve C #102:

But are you a fencer? I was puzzled when I first read it, for I didn't take fencing until the next year. After that, it made perfect sense and I could visualize it exactly.

#105 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 07:21 PM:

joann @ #104 -

Nope, not a fencer, but I've thought about trying it.

Using the jargon of a particular skill set can certainly lend an air of verisimilitude, and it was evident that Heinlein knew what fencing was about. The trick is knowing how much to use and what needs to be clear to the reader in ordinary terms.

"I intercepted the 355 radial on the VOR" is accurate, but it's clearer to say, "The instruments put me on the correct course, nearly due north".*


*some people fence, some people fly. :)

#106 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 08:29 PM:

Bruce Cohen, if Powell's rented rooms I would never leave.

#107 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 10:27 PM:

Powell's Books and Papa Haydn are the two places I must visit every time I'm in Portland - The Gold Room at the downtown Powell's and the Raspberry Gateau at Papa Haydn's east side restaurant. The advantage of going to college in town was that I was guaranteed to have store credit at Powell's after selling textbooks at the end of each semester.

#108 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 10:55 PM:

Serge@91: an op-ed in today's Boston Globe discusses just how implausible the evidence for the invention of baseball is. There was also a story not-many years back about western-MA town's papers, in which were recorded the costs of (IIRC) replacing a window broken in a baseball-like game not long after the Revolutionary War. I don't know that there's any evidence who first used the term "baseball" (instead of, e.g., "rounders"), but the game clearly dates back to Austen (and probably long before).

SteveC@102: augh.

#109 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 11:43 PM:

Some day we will all sit together in Powell's and wonder how one could endure being anywhere else.

#110 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 11:45 PM:

CHip @ 108... That far back?

#111 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2007, 11:59 PM:

Serge #93: Another pun like that one, and it'll be "Serge and Surgery".

#112 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2007, 12:23 AM:

dave luckett,

ahahahahaha. it was all worth it, just for that.

how long have you been saving that for?

#113 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2007, 03:16 AM:

Run tell the Republicans, the "serge" is working against the "insergency"!

#114 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2007, 03:17 AM:

Hey, Serge, don't be blue. The jokes aren't that bad; they should suit you.

#115 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2007, 03:32 AM:

Back to the requested list of good science books, Stumbling On Happiness really is quite excellent, filled with counter-intuitive but scientifically verified information on what actually makes us happy or unhappy. If The Face in the Mirror mentioned upthread is the book I'm thinking of, about animals', primates', and humans' concepts of self, then that was quite good too.

#116 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2007, 08:42 AM:

But are you a fencer? I was puzzled when I first read it, for I didn't take fencing until the next year. After that, it made perfect sense and I could visualize it exactly.

I had, oddly, the same reaction to the bridge game at the beginning of Farnham's Freehold (which I maintain is not racist in the sense that the people who usually use the word to condemn it mean it, but that's another thread). The first time I read it, I had never played bridge. Then I learned how, and read the book again, and that whole scene made much more sense.

My favorite incorrect technical details in books, by the way, is any fantasy or (pseudo-)medieval tale which includes embroidered tapestries, and anything that describes the Romans as having knitting. Some people fence, some people fly, and some people do random fiber arts. :)

#117 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2007, 09:02 AM:

Speaking of random fiber arts, I should mention a science book I liked: Elizabeth Barber's Women's Work: the First 20,000 Years. Some of her conclusions have a bit of the When Wymyn Ruled The World problem to them, but in general it's a nifty book if you're interested in the history of cloth.

#118 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 11:47 PM:

Serge@110: The story, per MSNBC. I can't find a reference in the Globe, so they were probably passing through this or some other second party's story. This one doesn't mention a \broken/ window, but does cite a documented ordinance (about keeping baseball away from a new hall) from 1791. When "baseball" began to be used instead of "rounders" (and when in any given area) would be an exercise for a serious scholar, but the term definitely predates the start of Austen(b1775)'s writing career.

#119 ::: hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2007, 09:34 AM:

My favorite incorrect technical details in books, by the way, is any fantasy or (pseudo-)medieval tale which includes embroidered tapestries

I thought the word tapestry originally just meant 'wall hanging' and was used for embroidered hangings as well (like the Bayeux Tapestry).

The one that bothers me is stew. Why do they always have stew when they're on the road?

#120 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2007, 10:05 AM:

I thought the word tapestry originally just meant 'wall hanging' and was used for embroidered hangings as well (like the Bayeux Tapestry)

Embroidered wall hangings are often called tapestries, but real tapestry is a weft-faced woven fabric. Woven upside-down and backwards, no less.

#121 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2007, 10:19 AM:

hamadryad #119, I can only recommend that for the answer to that excellent question you delve into the brilliant Diana Wynne Jones's "The Tough Guide to Fantasyland", where you will discover all that you ever wished to know about stew, not to mention inns, moors, castles, the odd dearth of arable land, and why frontal assault is the only viable military strategy.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.