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What Do You Think You Are? - Brian Clegg *****

I very much enjoyed Brian Clegg's book, The Universe Inside You, to which this new book forms a kind of inverted sequel. Where the earlier title used aspects of the human body to explore the universe around us, this one focuses inwards, looking at what makes the individual human the person they are.

Clegg starts with genealogy, noting that because of the way that family trees double in size with each generation, it soon fails as a way to show what we are as individuals, (the numbers involved spiral out of control and the neat tree becomes tangled), meaning only a tiny part of the tree is ever examined. After showing how we're all related to royalty, we are taken on a tour of the atoms that make us up (I love the various ways to work out how much they're worth, including getting the equivalent weight of potassium from bananas), the food that powers our bodies, the paeleological evidence for the origins of humanity as a species and the nature of life.

Perhaps the most interest…
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The Infinite Retina - Irena Cronin and Robert Scoble ***

I really wanted to like this book - spatial computing and augmented/virtual reality are topics that are fascinating and will definitely influence our lives. There is a lot on them in this chunky tome, but a considerable amount of the content is repetitive, and it suffers strongly from geek-enthusiasm, making wildly optimistic predictions of how we'll all be wearing augmented/virtual reality glasses by 2023-2025, and of the transformative dominance of autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars if you prefer fewer syllables).

The approach to each of these areas was, for me, full of issues. If I think about what I currently use a smartphone for and it's a very wide range of applications - maybe 40 different roles - but I can only think of one, following directions using mapping software, that would be enhanced by augmented or virtual reality. Similar, my main computer I do maybe 20 different things more intensively. Here, for example while working with text documents or spreadsheets, …

10,000 Light Years from Home (SF) - James Tiptree Jr. *****

Compared with literary fiction, the science fiction back catalogue has suffered badly over the years, with many classics from the field out of print. Gollancz has thankfully made inroads into these missing titles with their excellent (if mostly ebook) Gateway series. Now, Penguin has decided to bring back some of the greats too, in a handsome new series (if rather oddly formatted - they're unusually small books, perhaps to make them fatter, as we're less used now to the sensible length that books were in the past).

It was brave of Penguin to include a collection of short stories as one of their launch titles for this new set of reprints. Short stories are arguably the definitive format for SF - one where it beats most other genres hands down (it's really difficult, for example, to make a detective short story work) - and I'm yet to speak to anyone who doesn't enjoy short stories. Yet in the publishing world, collections of short stories are often considered to be a …

Auxiliary: London 2039 (SF) - Jon Richter ***

Jon Richter shows a lot of promise in this dystopian murder mystery set in a dark, future London. The main character, detective Carl Dremmler, polices a world where pretty well everything is run by a blend of AI and the internet called TIM, where humanoid robots are commonplace and where total immersion gaming is so beguiling that players regular die, failing to emerge into the real world.

Things get intriguing when a man who murders his partner claims that his artificial arm attacked her of its own accord. Despite doubts from the police hierarchy and opposition from mega-IT companies, Dremmler and his partner begin to suspect the man is telling the truth and something dark is happening. Things get particularly interesting - and the writing particularly engaging - when Dremmler visits the mega factory where the artificial arm was created and sees a production line making what he had thought was a real person.

The book really takes off at this point. Admittedly, sometimes the concepts…

Rewilding: Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe ****

Those who are enthusiastic about saving the environment often have a mixed relationship with science. They might for example, support organic farming or oppose nuclear power, despite organics having no nutritional benefit and requiring far more land to be used to raise the same amount of crops, while nuclear is a green energy source that should be seen as an essential support to renewables. This same confusion can extend to the concept of rewilding, which is one reason that the subtitle of this book uses the word 'radical'.

As Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe make clear, though, radical change is what is required if we are to encourage ecological recovery. To begin with, we need to provide environments for nature that take in the big picture - thinking not just of individual nature reserves but, for example, of corridors that link areas allowing safe species migration. And we also need to move away from an arbitrary approach to restricting to 'native' species, as sometimes…

Lucy Jane Santos - Four Way Interview

Lucy Jane Santos is an expert in the history of 20th century leisure, health and beauty, with a particular interest in (some might say obsession with) the cultural history of radioactivity. Writes & talks (a lot) about cocktails and radium. Her debut book Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium was published by Icon Books in July 2020.

Why science?

I have always been fascinated by the idea of science especially our daily interactions with and understandings of science – especially in a beauty context. I could spend hours pondering the labels of things on my bathroom shelf. What is 4-t-butylcyclohexanol (as a random example)? Do I really understand what I am putting on my face and spending my money on? Would it change my purchase habits if I did?  

Why this book?

This book came from an accidental discovery – that there was a product called Tho Radia which contained radium and thorium. I found out about it because I actually bought a pot of it – along with a big batch of other produc…

Grubane (SF) - Karl Drinkwater ****

Following on from Helene, this is the second novella that Karl Drinkwater has used to fill in some of the backstory of his Lost Solace novels. Here we meet the strategic genius ship captain Major William Grubane in a complex game of an engagement where the relatively dove-like Grubane has to fulfil  a mission that involves suppressing a rebellious planet while appeasing the more hawk-like side of his chain of command.

As is common to all the books in this series, an important factor is the interaction between a human and an artificial intelligence, in this case one of the many clone-like parts of the ship's AI known as Aurikaa12, which Grubane has encouraged towards a more human-like state of general intelligence than the other 'splinters'. The story is narrated from Aurikaa12's viewpoint. 

Along the way, chapters are interlaced with sections from Grubane's treatise The Philosophy and Application of Ancient Games in which he considers strategy in chess in a way that …