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MannyRayner

Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
Deathworld 1 - Harry Harrison A trickier book than it first appears. At first, you're sure you know exactly what's going to happen. Jason dinAlt, a typical cool SF superhero kinda guy, finds himself en route to Pyrrhus, the most dangerous planet in the known universe. The native fauna, and even flora, is so terrifyingly aggressive that the Pyrrhans all use special holsters for their guns to get an extra-fast draw. You just point your arm at whatever it is, tense your muscles, and blam! your gun is in your hand and already firing. I've a feeling that the safety aspects would be hard to debug, but as a 14 year old I loved this detail.

So, um, our Jason is going to figure out some kind of gas or robot or radioactive whatever, kill all those nasty alien life-forms, get the girl, and live happily ever after? (There is a girl, by the way, and she's seriously badass. My 14 year old self was very fond of Meta). I wasn't yet aware that Harrison's standard modus operandi is to subvert the clich├ęs of pulp SF. Jason does some background reading on some old records he's managed to locate. Was the planet always this deadly? If so, why did people ever decide to colonize it?

It turns out, to his surprise, that when humans arrived a few hundred years ago the animals weren't dangerous to them at all. But one of the original colonists remarked on their amazingly coordinated ability to respond to natural threats. Jason puts the pieces together. Somehow, native Pyrrhan life is telepathic, and can detect hostile intent. There were a couple of unfortunate incidents where colonists got scared of native animals, and shot them. The alien creature picked up the bad vibes, and retaliated. Pretty soon, both sides were headed down a vicious spiral.

So... the solution is just to show those deadly alien creatures a little love and understanding! And, to everyone's incredulous surprise, it works. Such a nice twist on the standard space-hero-versus-bug-eyed-monster story.