Which D-Day Spy Are You?

 

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies was one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. In celebration of the absurdity that was the Double Cross system, here are the D-Day Spies for you to tag yourself as.

“Scoot” aka “Tricycle

-play boy

-sent back pictures of his current gf reclining in front of planes instead of information

-bought an expensive car as part of his ‘role’

-demanded the british government buy him chocolate “for medical reasons”

-good fashion sense

 

Bronx

-“Lesbian” tendancies

-good at being bad at gambling

-no matter how much money she is allowed, manages to spend all her money

 

 

Treasure

-keeps a diary

-said diary is mostly about her dog

-really, really loves her dog

-talks smack about people to her dog in Russian

-almost betrayed the entire operation over not being reunited with her dog

 

Brutus

-got arrested for distributing inflammatory pamphlets

-should have been playing it cool as a spy

-has no chill

-owned 32 cats after the war

 

 

Garbo

-spends most of his time with fictional people of his own creation

-has an overactive imagination

-would be that person in your university class who can write 15 pages for a paper and say absolutely nothing but is praised for it

-has a diploma in chicken farming

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The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese read like Sherlock Holmes and Philip K. Dick got hitched and Ernest Cline gave the best man’s speech. Taking the traditional detective narrative of Sherlock Holmes and coupling it with the grittiness of Dick’s science fiction noir, Kroese manages to inject it with the light humor found in books like Ready Player One or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A book with so many strong influences could easily have been overwhelmed by them, but Kroese was able to take these elements, harness them in a unique way, and make a undeniably entertaining book.

Set in a crumbling Los Angeles in 2039, Sheep follows Erasmus Keane and Blake Fowler as they pursue two cases involving a genetically-altered sheep and the world’s most famous television star, Priya Mistry. As the investigations continue, the duo begins to realize that these two seemingly unrelated cases are intertwined and the conspiracy that connects them indicts some of the city’s most powerful residents.

The set-up will be familiar to anyone who has ever read Sherlock Holmes or watched the TV adaptation – a genius, but socially inept detective (or phenomenological investigator, as Keane prefers to be called) is aided in his investigations by his grounded, unassuming, and often frazzled aide. For something that could have ended up feeling tired and formulaic, though, Sheep manages to take this classic foundation and make it fresh. He brings Sherlock Holmes into the present by centering the novel around bioengineering, cloning, and other sciences that became popular at the turn of the century and utilizing the grittiness of noir scifi popularized by authors such as Philip K. Dick to revitalize and reimagine classic detective fiction. His characters also have their own unique personalities and quirks even as they nod to the famous detective and Watson, making for a well-crafted tribute rather than a clumsy imitation.

Also, if a reader prides themselves on being able to figure out the case before the final reveal, they will be quickly humbled by Sheep. Kroese makes good use of the science fiction element of this book here, using the ethically murky science of dodgy corporations to set up multiple possible outcomes and veil the mystery’s real answer until the last second. The narrative will lead readers down one path, only to quickly take an unexpected turn and leave the reader as frustratingly and intoxicatingly lost as they were in the first chapter.

And while the book’s writing isn’t transcendent, the tone was fitting for the given scenario. The more serious tone of most noir or police procedurals would have felt out of place here because the situations are so often bizarre and ridiculous, so it was smart of Kroese to take a more humorous route and make his writing tongue-in-cheek. Comedical science fiction is a vastly underexploited sub-genre, which makes Sheep stand out among other upcoming releases.

With Sherlock notorious for its long stretches between seasons and greats like Dick and Douglas Adams no longer producing work, The Big Sheep is the perfect remedy – a quick, fun fix for the eccentric investigator fans crave coupled with an appreciated nod to the works it roots itself in. A solid four out of five genetically-modified sheep.

sheepsheepsheepsheep/ sheepsheepsheepsheepsheep

We Have Lift Off: Mercury 13 Launches Women Astronauts Into History

PicsArt_01-30-01.54.08Following Rocket Girl as the second book in my women in science bender, The Mercury 13: The Untold Story of Thirteen American Woman and the Dream of Space Flight by Martha Ackmann may be the new love of my nonfiction collection – just thinking of those skillfully woven citations and footnotes has my heart a’twitter. Ackmann manages to do what so many nonfiction books fail to – present a work that has both a strong research base and a strong narrative. Paired with her ability to deliver information objectively while still communicating the emotional impact of it, Ackmann may be one of the best nonfiction authors I’ve read in recent memory and she does justice to a story that has spent too long untold.

Recounting the story of thirteen women who aspired to join their male counterparts in the race to the stars, Mercury 13 uses pilot and initial testing candidate Jerrie Cobb’s experience as a lens to both explore the broader societal implications of sexism in the space race and the personal stories of the women who experienced it firsthand.

As someone who has spent countless tear-filled hours in the library writing research papers, it was so satisfying to see how much time and effort Ackmann devoted to her own investigation. The book is absolutely saturated with information; often a chronic complaint from a citation and footnote fetishist like myself, Ackmann makes sure that her facts are clearly stated, correctly cited, and easily located in the end notes. But for how data-heavy this book is, it never feels dry or dull. Until you’ve tried to convince someone that the function of the compression system in the legs of an astronaut’s G-suit is interesting, you don’t understand how difficult a task making information exciting is, but Ackmann accomplishes it effortlessly.

Usually when a book is so well-researched, though, the story suffers – the author is so burnt from the actual research that they give one big “fuck it,” slap their data onto the pages into a rough approximation of order, and send it to their publisher in a self-loathing- and caffeine-fueled rage. So imagine my surprise when I was reading Mercury 13 as much for the story as for the information. With such a large history to tackle, choosing Jerrie Cobb to be the focal point of the book was a smart decision. She gives readers an anchor to ground the information they are receiving in and serves as human context for the massive amount of data Ackmann crams into this slim volume. While numbers themselves are often looked at with indifference, the excitement, anger, and pain they cause Cobb and her fellow female test subjects makes them palatable and adds substance to Ackmann’s account, even making me tear up near the end of the book.

For how emotional the personal accounts were, though, Ackmann never let her own emotion or opinion shine through. When discussing a prominent NASA director who called the female astronaut candidates “110 pounds of recreational equipment” for the male astronauts to use sexually, she was able to keep her professional objectivity while my blood pressure skyrocketed so fast that my vision blurred. In true scientific form, Ackmann allowed the information to speak for itself, which made a bigger impact than her own words ever could.

After closing the book, I want to beat down the door of every school room filled with young girls and throw it at them like it’s goddamn candy at a Fourth of July parade. I want to take every person who has ever told a girl that women don’t make good scientists or innovators and forcefully jam this book into their colon. I want to scream incoherently into the wind as the pages of this book rain down on me from the heavens. God bless Ackmann for her account of the Mercury 13, which finally tells the story of women who were kicking ass in a time when they weren’t even allowed to fly a plane without heels.

March 2016 Round-Up

VonG: Ah it’s that time of year. Spring has sprung and the insects have revived themselves out of whatever pocket dimension of hell they hide in during the winter, to crawl and fly their way into my face at all possible times.

I managed to read 20 books in March (one not pictured because it didn’t have a cover on the e-book I downloaded) and I attribute this enormous bought of reading to my strict avoidance of the sun, now that the great weather of fog and rain has deserted me.

March 2016 was a reading month of robots, murderous fairies, coconut cake, kilts, and disappointing alien romances.

I have to give a shout out to my problematic fav of the month (and probably year), the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning for being my dream kind of urban fantasy with lore that is perfect parts disturbing, richly imaginative, and can’t-put-it-down frustrating. That five day wait to get the final book from the library nearly left me a husk (haha get it? book reference). But it is so, so problematic…

Best of March: Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

The fairies (or fae, which is a way more hip term) had a good month in books between the Fever series and this gem. I am not familiar with Maas’ Throne of Glass series, so this was an introduction to the author and wow, what an introduction. This is the YA Fantasy that you dream of stumbling upon–complex, well-written characters, a plot with intrigue, an freshly imaginative world, a slip of dark themes, and…a lack of dopey teenage love triangles… This is one of the best YA Fantasy books I’ve read, end stop. You’ll find me, come May 3rd, with my face in the sequel. This kind of enthusiasm for books in a series is unusual for me but I am ready to leap back into the world that Maas has crafted.

Worst of March: Beyond the Highland Mist by Karen Marie Moning

After finishing the Fever series, I decided to check out Moning’s other works, including the romance novels she used to write taking place in Scotland: the Early Years (note that this is a sub-genre of romance novels I don’t have any prior experience in. I sort of knew it was a thing?). Putting this as the worst for the month is done with a tender, understanding touch and lack of burning rage because this book happens to be Moning’s first and what makes it bad is not the plot, characters, or actual writing style, but the problems that tend to be inherent with first novels–in this case, the especially poor pacing that is far too rushed in sections to the point of causing confusion and detracting from the progression of the characters’ motivations and character development. But credit to Moning, ya got better girl.

Maggie: In honor of Women’s History Month, I went full-on lady love in March – every book I read was by a female author, many of them authors of color as well.  I was a bit nervous initially because so much of what I read – science fiction – is authored by white men and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find anything quite my speed. Lo and behold, it turns out that March was my best reading month by far with only one book scoring below a three in my rating system. There were so many five star books that I’m actually going to have trouble choosing a favorite.

Best of March: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Though it was like pulling teeth trying to decide on a favorite, I finally chose Kolbert’s book about mass extinction because I not only think it’s an important and relevant issue, but because I also think this is going to remain a trend in the fiction I read as well. Climate fiction (cli-fi) is just coming into its own as a genre, but we’ve already seen some powerhouses tackling it – Maragret Atwood in her MaddAddam trilogy, Cixin Liu who won the Hugo award for his novel The Three-Body Problem, and other greats in the speculative literature field. I think works such as Sixth Extinction are important to have as a foundation when you start to venture into this genre, which is really addressing one of the most believable near-future issues humanity is going to face in the next century. Kolbert does such a good job of weaving her argument into a narrative, providing huge amounts of information without her writing feeling like a data dump. It takes a skillful writer to make nonfiction accessible and I’m impressed with her work here.

Worst of March: Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata

Even though it was the worst book I read in March, Kolata’s investigation of the virulent influenza that spread at the tail-end of War World I wasn’t horrible – it was just unpolished and not really what I’ve come to expect from nonfiction. She seemed to have a rather small amount of evidence to support a book well over 300 pages, the notes in the back taking up just twenty or so of the books entirety. She also filled the book with irrelevant detail.  I’m not sure if it was her attempt to humanize the story or just an attempt to beef up the page count, but there’s no reason I need to know the childhood stories of the scientists searching for the virus. Tell me where they went to school, tell me what relevant experience they have, and be done with it because in no way does know that one of them enjoyed baseball as a child enhance either the narrative or information for me. Since I was already a bit wary of her credentials and information to begin with, this filler just made me even more cautious of the text. While it read well for the most part and had a strong narrative quality that I appreciate in popular science writing, I just didn’t trust the information she was giving me and that’s a death sentence for a non-fiction book.