steampunk & penguins, some light reading

It’s been some time since my last what I’ve read recently post. While I spend all day immersed in words, I haven’t had much time for pleasure reading. I’ve learned to sneak in moments when I can by scattering the house with the half-finished books that gathered dust on my night stand for years.

I finally finished Fraser’s Penguins and The Difference Engine. They are two very different books and there is no reason why they gathered dust for so long. Are they perfect? No. But I am pleased to have read them.

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Fraser’s Penguins is the story of the Adélie penguins, in theory. It’s really both much more and much less. I confess, I picked up this volume up based on the word “penguins” in the title. For years, I’ve been embarrassed at how little I knew about penguins, even though I’m, well, Penguin Girl. Did I learn more than I know before I started the book, yes. Is it the best book to learn about penguins? No. Through a meandering narrative, Montaigne explores the history of the Antarctic through historic expeditions and their interactions with penguins, Fraser’s modern research, and the rapid climate shift that is threatening this species and many others today. Because he worked with Fraser’s research group, we are given some insight into this scientist’s research and the conclusions he draws, but it isn’t what I expected at all before I started to read. That’s ok. I learned quite a bit about a region and a species of which I was ignorant. I cautiously recommend this title to college students wanting to understand the process of field research, though be warned I only had a two-week Latin America field-assistant gig (for psycholinguistics) and Montaigne is a journalist. I’m sure there are other titles out there that provide better introduction to what field scientists (and assistants) do both on the job and off… But I enjoyed these insights into that life. When all the disparate parts of the book are brought together, I found Montaigne does paint a picture of the rapid climate change affecting Antarctica and what that means for the Adélies, several other species, and us.
Fraser's Penguins: A Journey to the Future in AntarcticaFraser’s Penguins: A Journey to the Future in Antarctica
by Fen Montaigne
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published November 9th 2010 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Oh Steampunk and London there is so much I love about you. The Difference Engine is a classic steampunk novel set in Victorian England and features two names I expected to find Charles Babbage & Ada Lovelace, though there is little direct interaction with them. I often felt as if this novel was put together after a random sort to the punch cards. Because I read it off and on over the span of almost three years, I’m sure much of the plot was lost on me. But that’s ok. I enjoyed experiencing scenes of an alternate history version of Victorian England. As this book is 21 years old, there are many reviews of this now classic title out there, this review made me smile, though I’d specify the tins as in oil instead of water. Did I enjoy it? Yes, to a degree, because I’ll devour almost any book on London. Did I want to throw the book across the room several times? Yes. I read it (and finished it) because I felt it was something I needed to read to understand the steampunk that is being published today. Are you interested in Steampunk and like to knit? Needles and Artifice may be the book for you.

The Difference Engine The Difference Engine
Paperback, 429 pages
Published February 1992 by Spectra (first published 1990)

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Have you recently finished a book that you’d been meaning to read for a while? What book?