Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sleeping Giants

By Sylvain Neuvel

Little Rose was out playing when she fell into a deep hole. She was discovered laying in a giant metal hand. The hand is quickly commandeered by the US military. Rose grows up to become a physicist.
The hand is impervious to investigation and it is put away and forgotten. That is until the forearm is discovered in the Middle East many years later. So the race is on to find more pieces and to try and figure out the origin and purpose of the giant statue. Coincidentally, Rose is the team leader.
Pieces are found scattered all over the world and once assembled, it forms a statue of a giant alien woman. She bears a shield and sword and her torso contains a cockpit with mechanisms to control the statue and its weaponry. Rose's team has the job of trying to figure out how to pilot the giant vehicle and decode the alien language. They do so in a huge compound underneath the Denver, Colorado airport.
The statue has strange controls that require two people to operate, one to pilot the upper body and one to pilot the lower body. One day, the two pilots are fooling around with the statue and accidentally activate some of its defensive systems, resulting in the destruction of part of the airport and the loss of several lives and also exposing the statue to the eyes of the world.
This causes an international crisis, especially as various nations realize that parts of the statue were stolen from their lands. To placate an irate world, the statue is dumped into a deep canyon in the depths of the ocean.
But of course, it is not destined to remain buried in the ocean.

This was a pretty good story. But there were lots of coincidences, like Rose being the team leader and the accident that permits one of the pilots perform his job better, which I found that a bit off-putting. The story is told in a series of reports, interviews, diaries and letters, which was a pretty interesting way to tell the story.
This is the first book in a new series, The Themis Files. Apparently, it is also being made into a movie.
For more see, NPR

The Road to Little Dribbling

By Bill Bryson

Some twenty years ago, Bill Bryson traveled throughout Britain and recorded his experiences in a book, Notes from a Small Island. He decided to repeat the experience, and the resulting book is The Road to Little Dribbling.
Bryson compares his memory of his trip from twenty years ago to the current situation and often finds things have changed for the worse. Places he wanted to revisit are gone or so changed as to bear little resemblance from what they were the first time. However some are much improved, among them being Stonehenge. He also finds little museums chock full of interesting trivia and engaging displays. But he also finds that Britain is awash in trash and litter and wonders how a country with such beautiful, gracious landscapes can be so indifferent to littering.  On the other hand, he enjoys how much British cuisine has improved since his first trip, as he eats and drinks his way across the land.
Bryson obviously loves his adopted land, warts and all, and finds Britain and it people endlessly fascinating, even when he feeling rather snarky and disagreeable, which is a lot of the time.
Twenty years later, Bryson seems a bit crankier than before but his sense of humor remains firmly intact as he laughs at himself and at the quirky British people.

I enjoyed the book, for the most part, although I did lose interest in it towards the end and let it sit unread for several weeks.  Since I never get to travel and probably never will, this is the closest I can come to going to Britain myself. It was a fun and entertaining read for this "armchair traveler".
For more see The New York Times review at