Thursday, September 09, 2010

Lords and Ladies - Terry Pratchett

I have stopped counting which book of the Discworld I am reading. There are over 30 books, if I am not mistaken, and I do have most of them. And those I do not have I will buy. Reading Discworld novels is a totally new experience. You never read it in trains, planes and automobiles of any kind, because people will think you are crazy since you will end up laughing and doing all sorts of weird gestures.

Lords and Ladies is no exception to the rule. This novel features our little coven, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Margrat. The three witches have come back to Lancre, and Margrat Garlick is going to marry King Verence II and become Queen. Of course, things are not so simple, as the Elves are coming back. And no, these are not the elves of fantasy novels, these are the elves of Discworld! They want everything for themselves, and do not care who they hurt. But they have not counted on our three witches...As the back of the book says, there is also an assortment of wizards, monkeys apes, dwarfs and other creatures.

This is Pratchett's take on A Midsummer Night's Dream. But there is more in this book; it is not just a humorous take on a classic. They are beautiful and graceful, or so they appear; but they are also egotistical, cruel and sadistic. They are the two sides of the same coin. On one side what we want and on the other side what we should avoid being. For what is beauty and grace without a soul? They also show that people will fall for money, power or for their inner desires; especially when those desires are not being released in some way, if there are things that are stopping us from pursuing our true dreams.

We make choices, and sometimes hard choices. Even if we regret those choices, even if we look back and see that we made mistakes, we should not linger in the past. We should move forward and continue living. This is what Granny Weatherwax has done; whatever her choice was in the past, she has stuck with it, and has continued to live. And Nanny Ogg? Nanny Ogg is the one who is living her life as best as she can. Never misses an opportunity, and neither should we. Margrat shows us that there is strength in everyone, and that everyone can find the strength to stand up and fight for what we believe.

Pratchett's books look innocent enough, but there is much more to discover reading them. The Discworld is not just a humorous take on our world, it is also a way for Pratchett to show us his own view of our world, and most of the times, it is a view that I agree with.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Storm Front - Jim Butcher

A few people had recommended to me to start reading the Dresden Files. I had seen the one-season TV series, and I was intrigued by it. Now, I can see that the books are probably a lot better than the series ever was.

The story is not an original one. A bad wizard is killing people, and Harry Dresden, our protagonist, lands in the middle of this case. A lot of people think that Harry may be the killer, because of his past. So, Harry must risk his life in order to find and stop the killer. And he must do it, before the killer manages to murder him in the same gory way as his other victims.

As I said, it is not so much the story or the world Jim Butcher builds in his novel, that are original. We have seen a lot of similar worlds and similar stories. What is original though is Harry himself. Because we go through the whole book from the perspective of Harry. It is written in the first person, by Harry. And Harry is not some larger than life character, nor is he someone who would go in a situation without knowing the consequences. He does know, and he is afraid. And a lot of other emotions go through him, and through the pages of the book through us.

The writing style of Jim Butcher is what makes this novel work. It is as if Butcher has been writing for a long time, he is confident with his characters, with Harry himself. He knows Harry Dresden, but he is also discovering him through the pages of the book. And with Jim Butcher we discover Harry and the world he lives in.

Well, I would like to see how the story of Harry continues, in due time. There are other books to sink my eyes in, before the next Dresden one.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Spiral of a dying star

Wonderful photo isn't it? Again the Hubble Space Telescope shows us an incredible photo. And no, we are not interested in the star that is visible here, but in the faint spiral at the left of the star.

The spiral is made from material ejected by a red giant star, a star that is at the end of its life cycle. It has already burnt all its hydrogen, transformed it through nuclear fusion into helium , and it is now transforming helium into carbon, again through a process of nuclear fusion.

The spiral is due to the fact that the red giant star has a companion, another star, and the gravitational influence of the companion star "pushes" the material into a spiral.

Another very interesting fact is that the spiral is being lit, not by the binary star, but by galactic starlight!

More on the Hubble photograph here: An Extraordinary Celestial Spiral
The short scientific article is here, free for download: A Binary-Induced Pinwheel Outflow from the Extreme Carbon Star, AFGL 3068