Posted by Sari
To prove to Marko I have been reading:
John Gribbin: The Fellowship. The Story of a Revolution
It is of
course fiction, alternate universe or secret universe fiction at that, and
should not be taken for a fact, but I think Stephenson has managed to catch
something that was true about the way these great natural philosophers worked.
Firstly, they argued and had bitter sometimes mysterious feuds, but they also
worked together, shared information and collaborated in most unexpected ways
with each other. Secondly, they thought – as Shapin delightfully puts it –
“that the poor shape of existing natural philosophy [had resulted from]
inadequate quality control over its register of facts”. Thus they were busily
building up a store of better quality facts by conducting experiments, being
interested in all things - and reveling in it.
John Gribbin, an astrophysicist turn to prolific popular science writer tackles the same cast of characters in his “The Fellowship. The Story of a Revolution”. In a series of biographical sketches from Galileo to Halley he traces the development of scientific ideas and method. Gribbin is out to prove that there is no such thing as a Kuhnian shift of paradigm, that the scientific revolution was a collaborative effort, and that Halley and Hooke are unfairly shadowed by Newton (who spent all that time with useless alchemy anyway).
The end result is frustrating. The frame on which the biographical sketches hang is the Royal Society, but for a book arguing for the collaborative nature of science the format really underplays the exchange of ideas. Also, his inclusion of biographical detail and exclusion of all their areas of interest not part of the path towards the modern scientific world-view makes the sketches unbalanced and extremely selective. Why is Sir Kenelmn Digby, Kitty Barton or Hooke’s incestuous affair with his niece relevant but Newton’s alchemy or Boyle’s astrology are not? These men did not, could not know which of their experiments and theories would end up being important and which would lead into a dead end. Looking at the shakers and movers of scientific revolution as teleologically Gribbin does might arguably be viable from the point of view of a scientist who is not interested in the byways and alleys the search for scientia took the cast of Gribbin’s characters, but for someone interested in the persons and the process, this book is ultimately a failure.
Tamara Siler Jones: Ghosts in the Snow, Threads of Malice, Valley of the Soul
The Pitch would be something like fantasy meets Patricia Cornwall. Jones writes murder mysteries in fantasy setting. Her “detective” Dubric Byerly is an old Castellan who sees ghosts of murder victims until he has solved what happened and punished the guilty parties. He is aided by his squire and pages, and the murders he is called upon to solve are usually more gruesome serial affairs.
What I like about Jones’ work is a good fit of two very different genres, competent story telling, and the fact they are also mentoring fics. Dubric has and is mentoring Dien and they both are mentoring the pages. Why is there so little good fiction about mentoring? It is such an interesting dynamic and so under-utilized. One of the reasons I have grown frustrated with Harry Potter was that Dumbledore is such a crap mentor and Rowlings keeps telling us he really is great.
Steven Saylor: Murha Via Appialla (Murder on the Appian Way)
Saylor’s novels set during the first century B.C. often have a back drop of great events. His detective Gordianus the Finder has helped the rich and famous of the city from Cicero to Caesar, always observing the defining moments of the fall of the Republic. This time Gordianus gets commissioned to find out who really murdered the rabble rousing politician Publius Clodius Pulcher on the Appian Way. Was it his rival Milo or someone else? With his customary skill Saylor weaves together the facts we know with pure invention arriving in an interesting resolution to the plot. Gordianus and his family are as unconventionally adorable here as before and the way Saylor through them depicts the city boiling over and descending towards anarchy is really the best part of the novel, quite outstanding, actually.