1st up, "Time Travel", by James Gleick. 336 pages. I read this in hardback. It's a pleasant and fairly quick read, exploring the nature of time and the history of the concept of time travel, which Gleick posits was unknown before H. G. Wells' "The Time Machine". In the end tho, there are no real conclusions, beyond the fact that we have all become experts on time travel, time loops, etc., thanks to movies like "Groundhog Day", "Terminator", "Looper", etc.
Next, Dan Simmons latest, "The Fifth Heart". 617 pages. I happened to notice this in Joseph-Beth when I was buying Christmas presents. I bought it in trade paperback. I found this cover blurb really interesting:
Holmes explains that his powers of deduction have led him to a shocking conclusion that he - Sherlock Holmes - is a fictional character.Oh boy, metafiction! But Simmons doesn't really do much with the idea. It appeared that, aside from some carryover characters from the Holmes canon, including Professor Moriarty, Irene Adler, and Colonel Moran, most of the characters are real historical figures, primary among them the novelist Henry James who somewhat fills in for Dr. Watson. Others include Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Teddy Roosevelt, Clarence King, Henry & Clover Adams, John & Clara Hays. James and I think Twain both wonder if, given that Holmes is a fictional character, that makes them fictional characters too?!?!? Kind of cute, but it really doesn't go much of anywhere. Meanwhile, the main plot moves along well, but isn't really that compelling - plus I kept waiting for the metafiction aspect to jump in. Still, an enjoyable read.
I really don't trust Simmons anymore since his right-wing-dog-whistle-filled "Flashback", which I reviewed here. Does he relate Teddy Roosevelt's white supremacist views with relish? Why relate them at all? Was he as enamored of the British class system as it seemed to me? Manservants, FTW? It has diminished my enjoyment of his excellent writing to have be all the time wondering if I am smelling right-wing, feudal bullshit.
Next, "The Moth", edited by Catherine Burns, 410 pages. The Moth is an organization that has been promoting storytelling for 15 years via live shows, NPR broadcasts, and podcasts. (My oldest daughter Erica says this is one of her favorite podcasts.) This book is 50 stories representing some of the best of the 1000s they have produced. There is an interesting foreword by the founder, George Dawes Green, telling how he was trying to recapture his memories of listening to true stories on the front porch when he was growing up in Georgia. The description of how they figured out how to make it all work is also interesting.
I read ~1/2 of the book. Some of the stories are more moving and poignant than others; all are interesting. But I was getting the feeling that the stories would be more enjoyable if read in small doses. We used to call that a "bathroom book", like a book of Joe Bob Briggs movie reviews. Read 1 while sitting on the pot. They are mostly 5-10 pages, perfect! So I set this book aside, to read intermittently.
The story is set in the 1920s and is primarily about an expedition to Mt. Everest. It somewhat follows the formula of Simmons' "The Terror" - historical foo with some weird supernatural stuff thrown in - but with some significant differences. From a few Wikipedia searches, the main characters appear to be mostly fictional. There are some real historical figures thrown in as well. The book moves along well and has an exciting if perhaps cliched conclusion.
Re the right-wing, feudal bullshit watch, several of the characters are British nobles, and we get descriptions of the fantastic manor homes. But I won't judge Simmons too harshly for that. British-nobility-love seems engrained in American culture overall - for example, "Downton Abbey", and the desire to play serious dress-up. I will continue in my quest to wear casual clothes wherever and whenever I can.
I had thoughts re, these beautiful homes filled with art, lots of which are probably tourist attractions now, could they have ever been created without feudalism, without the 1% to act as resource concentrators? (Religion seems to have been the other major resource concentrator, as in medieval cathedrals.) My initial answer was, no, probably not. But then I thought, what if capital had been distributed equitably throughout history? If artists had a basic income equivalent, they could have created what they wanted, rather than what their wealthy patrons wanted. How much more great art would that have resulted in? But, up until 50 years ago or so, there probably was little enough capital overall that a more equitable distribution would have still left everybody pretty poor.
Despite the current political victories for the old lizards and their thinking, I am still hoping that capitalism has indeed done its job as Keynes thought it would, that there has been enough capital created that we can move to a world of sufficient abundance for all, despite the old lizards.