Monday, October 28, 2019

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Book club book #8

I used to read books like this all the time. My Dad and I would pass volumes of Robin Cook, Nelson DeMille, and Michael Crichton back and forth. Then I stopped. I took a break to do some rereading and delve into the classics. I had kids and reading became harder to do. I missed the genre of world-ending thrillers, where real science goes a step too far and an emotionally scarred detective jumps into the fray. I'm glad to be back.

Recursion was a great re-entry.

Helena is the scientist. Her work in memory mapping to help alzheimer patients goes awry when it opens the door to time travel. Barry is the detective, mourning the loss of his teenage daughter and his marriage. False Memory Syndrome is the disease, appearing one day, randomly. People are somehow being given a second set of memories that never happened. It makes many crazy since they're living two lives, but only within their own mind. There's no known cause or cure, until Barry and Helena team up.

Barry starts poking around and Helena realizes what she's created. Then, it's a rush to save the world in a way that won't ripple out these false memories, connected to timelines that technically never happened. Timelines that lead to mass suicide and worldly destruction. Barry and Helena try over and over until the very attempt to solve the problem becomes more of a struggle than watching the world end over and over.

This is a smart and intense read that had me carrying my Kindle around the house to read every spare minute I had. The struggle feels real. The characters are complex, flawed, and people I wanted to know. It was a painfully realistic look at how humanity could conceivably destroy itself.

It was great to feel so vested in a story that was well-written and well-thought. It has been a while for me. I highly recommend this book for a cold night's read by the fire this holiday season. It will be well worth the time.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Judgement Day: The Science of Discworld IV by Terry Pratchett

Rounding out this series of books, the fourth volume in Pratchett's set combines yet another humorous and crazy Discworld tale with real science and thought-provoking analyses of our world. This time there's even a trial, of sorts, as the ownership of Roundworld (aka our universe) comes under dispute.

More philosophical in nature than the other volumes, this is a book about thought and perception. It looks at a lot of science, but also delves into how the human ways of thinking have shaped our beliefs. From religion to how we interpret scientific facts, there's always the nagging feeling that certain questions simply don't have a "right" answer. 

Conviction is closely explored as well as the book asks if things are a certain way because we've created specific rules to defend our point. Does G-d exist because we've got a book that says so or did we write the book to support a belief that something specific made our world? It's a valid question even as I have my own convictions. I realize that most people disagree about some topic or at some level, so how do you prove what you can only theorize about? You can't. Even with science, if it's just theoretical, you can craft any equation to support an opinion and label it as fact. That is, until someone else comes along with a different formula and completely changes the game.

It's a fascinating way to approach just about anything.

While all this heavy thinking is going on, we get a good dose of silly on Discworld. Pratchett takes these serious questions about proof and thought and belief and converts them into an argument about the ownership of Roundworld. Even though the professors of Unseen University know Roundworld is their creation, because they were there when the world began, a religious group is laying claim to the universe because it proves their belief that the world is round. Discworld is actually flat, and it's a known and verified fact, but that doesn't stop this group from daring to think differently.

Does believing in something give you ownership over it? That's an interesting question, and in the end the ultimate decider for whether Roundworld returns to its spot on an academic wizard's shelf or becomes a tangible symbol of an entire religion. It's also something to think about in relation to our own universe, which we can never actually understand since we can't see the big picture. What else is really out there? Can we even predict it? The conversation could continue infinitely, unlike the decision about Roundworld. That gets an exciting conclusion, one that even involves a decent chase.

Before reading this book, make sure you hit the series from the start. The books do reference each other.