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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Reading List: Thing Explainer

Munroe, Randall. Thing Explainer. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-66825-6.
What a great idea! The person who wrote this book explains not simple things like red world sky cars, tiny water bags we are made of, and the shared space house, with only the ten hundred words people use most.

There are many pictures with words explaining each thing. The idea came from the Up Goer Five picture he drew earlier.

Up Goer Five

Drawing by Randall Munroe / xkcd used under right to share but not to sell (CC BY-NC 2.5).
(The words in the above picture are drawn. In the book they are set in sharp letters.)

Many other things are explained here. You will learn about things in the house like food-heating radio boxes and boxes that clean food holders; living things like trees, bags of stuff inside you, and the tree of life; the Sun, Earth, sky, and other worlds; and even machines for burning cities and boats that go under the seas to throw them at other people. This is not just a great use of words, but something you can learn much from.

There is art in explaining things in the most used ten hundred words, and this book is a fine work of that art.

Read this book, then try explaining such things yourself. You can use this write checker to see how you did.

Can you explain why time slows down when you go fast? Or why things jump around when you look at them very close-up? This book will make you want to try it. Enjoy!

The same writer also created What If? (2015-11)

Here, I have only written with the same ten hundred most used words as in the book.

Posted at 22:38 Permalink

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Reading List: 1632

Flint, Eric. 1632. Riverdale, NY: Baen Publishing, 2000. ISBN 978-0-671-31972-4.
Nobody knows how it happened, nor remotely why. Was it a bizarre physics phenomenon, an act of God, intervention by aliens, or “just one of those things”? One day, with a flash and a bang which came to be called the Ring of Fire, the town of Grantville, West Virginia and its environs in the present day was interchanged with an equally large area of Thuringia, in what is now Germany, in the year 1632.

The residents of Grantville discover a sharp boundary where the town they know so well comes to an end and the new landscape begins. What's more, they rapidly discover they aren't in West Virginia any more, encountering brutal and hostile troops ravaging the surrounding countryside. After rescuing two travellers and people being attacked by the soldiers and using their superior firepower to bring hostilities to a close, they begin to piece together what has happened. They are not only in central Europe, but square in the middle of the Thirty Years' War: the conflict between Catholic and Protestant forces which engulfed much of the continent.

Being Americans, and especially being self-sufficient West Virginians, the residents of Grantville take stock of their situation and start planning to make of the most of the situation they've been dealt. They can count themselves lucky that the power plant was included within the Ring of Fire, so the electricity will stay on as long as there is fuel to run it. There are local coal mines and people with the knowledge to work them. The school and its library were within the circle, so there is access to knowledge of history and technology, as well as the school's shop and several machine shops in town. As a rural community, there are experienced farmers, and the land in Thuringia is not so different from West Virginia, although the climate is somewhat harsher. Supplies of fuel for transportation are limited to stocks on hand and in the tanks of vehicles with no immediate prospect of obtaining more. There are plenty of guns and lots of ammunition, but even with the reloading skills of those in the town, eventually the supply of primers and smokeless powder will be exhausted.

Not only does the town find itself in the middle of battles between armies, those battles have created a multitude of refugees who press in on the town. Should Grantville put up a wall and hunker down, or welcome them, begin to assimilate them as new Americans, and put them to work to build a better society based upon the principles which kept religious wars out of the New World? And how can a small town, whatever its technological advantages and principles, deal with contending forces thousands of times larger? Form an alliance? But with whom, and on what terms? And what principles must be open to compromise and which must be inviolate?

This is a thoroughly delightful story which will leave you with admiration for the ways of rural America, echoing those of their ancestors who built a free society in a wilderness. Along with the fictional characters, we encounter key historical figures of the era, who are depicted accurately. There are a number of coincidences which make things work (for example, Grantville having a power plant, and encountering Scottish troops in the army of the King of Sweden who speak English), but without those coincidences the story would fall apart. The thought which recurred as I read the novel is what would have happened if, instead, an effete present-day American university town had been plopped down in the midst of the Thirty Years War instead of Grantville. I'd give it forty-eight hours at most.

This novel is the first in what has become a large and expanding Ring of Fire universe, including novels by the author and other writers set all over Europe and around the world, short stories, periodicals, and a role-playing game. If you loved this story, as I did, there's much more to explore.

This book is a part of the Baen Free Library. You can read the book online or download it in a wide variety of electronic book formats, all free of digital rights management, directly from the book's page at the Baen site. The Kindle edition may also be downloaded for free from Amazon.

Posted at 00:40 Permalink