BOOK REVIEW: Meeting the Dog Girls by Gay Terry

Meeting the Dog Girls: StoriesMeeting the Dog Girls: Stories by Gay Terry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This collection consists of 30 pieces of short fiction that might be put in the bucket of speculative fiction. (“Speculative fiction” being defined as existing in a world unlike our own–i.e. sci-fi, horror, strange tales, and fantasy.) The stories are cross-genre, but “tales of the weird” is a common theme. Many of the pieces are too long for flash but on the short side of short story, though there are also a number that are of typical short story length.

It’s a mixed bag not only in terms of genre, but also in terms of the appeal. There were a few stories that I enjoyed, others that I didn’t care for, and—worst of all–a number that were utterly forgettable. Besides the strangeness, there’s another quality that might be called “quirky humor” that sparkles here and there throughout the collection.

Among the pieces that I found most interesting and readable were: “Spirit Gobs,” “Barbara Hutton Toujours,” “On Orly’s Border,” “Icon,” and “Meeting the Dog Girls.”

There’s a mini Tai Chi theme running across a couple of pieces, so I dig that.

If you enjoy tales of the strange and you can pick this book up at a good price, you just might like it.

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BOOK REVIEW: What is Life? by Addy Pross

What Is Life?: How Chemistry Becomes BiologyWhat Is Life?: How Chemistry Becomes Biology by Addy Pross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Dr. Pross’s book shares a title (but not a subtitle) with the seminal work by the renowned physicist Erwin Schrödinger from 1944. While Schrödinger addresses a wide range of topics on how life might be explained in terms of physics and chemistry, Pross’s focus is narrower. Pross asks—and proposes an answer for—the straightforward (but thorny) question of how abiogenesis could occur. Abiogenesis is life from the non-living. Darwin did an excellent job of explaining how we could get from single-celled organisms to the great complexity we see in our own bodies, but Darwin didn’t touch the question of how that very first ancestor became animated.

The subtitle of this work, “How Chemistry Becomes Biology,” gives one insight into how Pross proceeds. There’ve been many ideas about how life came to be on planet Earth over the years. For a time, the idea of panspermia—life arriving from an extraterrestrial source—was popular. Of course, the most popular belief has been that there was a force of life (i.e. an “élan vital”) breathed into non-living matter by a, presumably, supernatural force / entity. While the awe-inspiring nature of life made this idea appealing / believable, it took a hit from the Urey-Miller experiments. Said experiment exposed the four materials believed to have been the most common in our pre-biologic atmosphere (hydrogen, ammonia, methane, and water vapor) to lightning, and the result included a range of organic materials—including amino acids–the building blocks of… well, us, among the other life forms of the planet. Of course, Urey-Miller didn’t make abiogenesis a foregone conclusion, but the production of ever more complex self-replicating molecules under laboratory conditions has made it easier to digest the notion that life developed without any intelligent or supernatural push.

While Pross’s ideas are at the stage of hypothesis, he develops a compelling explanation that revolves around the idea of dynamic kinetic stability. “Dynamic Kinetic Stability” is a mouthful, and so it’s necessary to break it down. The best place to start is with the “stability” part. This is because the biggest problem for an abiogenetical theory of life is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The Second Law tells us that entropy increases. There are many ways of restating this, such as that chemical reactions move to states that are of lower free energy. However, the most intuitive way is to say that a beer mugs break but do not spontaneously pop into existence. So if everything is getting simpler by deteriorating, breaking, and decomposing, how does one get / maintain a stable state of complexity? First and foremost, the answer involves adding a lot of energy and resources, but there’s more to it than that–as the author explains. “Dynamic” can also be explained in complex terms, but it’s most easily thought of as being like a river in that the river’s existence is stable, but it’s always a different river—ever changing water molecules arranged differently. (Critically, our bodies are the same way. Except for neurons, our cells are constantly being replaced.) The term “kinetic” speaks to how said replacement takes place; replication must be fast and decay slow.

The appeal of the ideas put forth by Pross is that they’re conceptually consistent with Darwinian Evolution. That is, an entirely new set of principles isn’t necessary to make sense of the origins of life. Pross argues that the self-replicating molecules that can most effectively put resources to use succeed in doing so, and—in the process–they drive others into extinction.

I found this book interesting and readable. The author uses good analogies to make his points (which often deal in complex matter) as clearly as possible. I can’t disagree with the other reviewers who’ve pointed out that the book is a bit repetitive and drags out a relatively simple statement of the argument. It’s not so egregious that I could say that it’s necessarily the result of a desire to pad the book out to a length necessary to sell in hard-copy form. (But it might have been.) The understanding of this topic is in its infancy, but that doesn’t mean this book isn’t a valuable contribution to popular understanding of abiogenesis.

I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in reflecting on from whence we came in a fashion that is open-minded to explanations that eschew the supernatural.

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DAILY PHOTO: In the Temple of Literature

Taken in Hanoi on December 30, 2015

Taken in Hanoi on December 30, 2015

IMG_1830 IMG_1845 IMG_1847

 

Temple of Literature? (Văn Miếu – Quốc Tử Giám?) It sounds like a grandiose name for a library, but it’s really what the Vietnamese call a Confucian temple. This one is in Hanoi.

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher famous for his ideas such as the hierarchical nature of relationships and how governance is practiced morally. His philosophy provided a popular counterpoint to the more free-wheeling Taoist belief system. Both Confucianism and Taoism came to be practiced by some as religion (though other advocates of each would say that it’s philosophy and not theology.)

DAILY PHOTO: Inexplicable Homage to Michael Jackson

Taken in Hungary in December of 2014

Taken in Hungary in December of 2014

 

Every town has its zany locales. In Budapest, there’s a random tree in Erzsébet tér lovingly devoted to the departed pop icon Michael Jackson.

DAILY PHOTO: Colorful Szentendre Street Scene

Taken in December of 2014 in Szentendre

Taken in December of 2014 in Szentendre

DAILY PHOTO: Hoi An War Cemetery

Taken in December of 2015 in Hoi An

Taken in December of 2015 in Hoi An

DAILY PHOTO: Dragon Head Totem

Taken in December 2015 in the Saigon Delta

Taken in December 2015 in the Mekong Delta

 

Dragons feature prominently in Vietnamese temples. These mythical beasts are one of four sacred creatures common to Vietnamese folklore. The others are the Phoenix, Unicorn, and a kind of Tortoise. The unicorn isn’t the variety seen on the book covers of 16-year-old girls, it’s a nasty beast.

DAILY PHOTO: Yellow Lotus

Taken in December of 2015 in Saigon

Taken in December of 2015 in Saigon

DAILY PHOTO: Kayak Beach

Taken on December 31, 2015 in Bai Tu Long Bay

Taken on December 31, 2015 in Bai Tu Long Bay

POEM: 3 Haiku Day

circling hawk glides
I’m glad it’s not a vulture
I must be alive



still lake reflecting
a mountainous lay of land
hiding fish below



hissing wind gusting
through narrow leaves of bamboo
calling to no one

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