The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions by Peter Brannen

I wasn’t one of those kids that was enamored with dinosaurs, and we didn’t really explain that birds were dinosaurs until I was well outside the age where my clothing shopping took place in the kid’s section. I became interested in dinosaurs and their extinction because I was one of those kids who was fascinated by plate tectonics and geology, and the plate tectonics and geology kept bouncing against the paleontology and, well,  eventually one takes a hint.

Thus I’ve found myself becoming interested in dinosaurs somewhat unexpectedly. I watch PBS Eons and read things about how chickens are actually dinosaurs.

And on the other side of the science debates, I numbly agree that yeah, humans are causing climate change, but do we know what could actually happen? Do we have any models?

Turns out we do. Not the models we would have chosen, but definitely actual research-driven mind-adjusting models. They’re called the mass extinctions.

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions by Peter Brannen scratches the geology itch, the plate tectonics itch, the biology itch, the paleontology itch, even a touch of anthropology near the end when the humans show up. It skips all those long “boring” stretches when everyone’s living just fine between the ends of their worlds. It puts significant attention on those times when multiple things, like a perfect storm, go horribly wrong. We don’t just learn about the mass extinctions. We learn about the places on our own roadsides where we can see the evidence of those extinctions – juts of ground that were the bottom of seabeds, cliffs that were volcanos, rocks that were animals.

This is the most in-depth look at what rises and falls in CO2 levels actually do to the Earth – its oceans, its land masses, and its atmospheres – that I’ve found anywhere I’ve looked. It’s the first time I’ve gotten an explanation of how the planet does its best to self-regulate its temperature (and it turns out to have a lot to do with dissolving the mountains) and the first time I’ve gotten a good idea of the time frames involved (really really *really* really long).

So will there be another mass extinction? Eventually, and it will probably involve CO2 levels. Whether that’s soon enough for our society to remember it, or far enough out that we’ve moved off-planet remains to be determined by our own behavior over the next 100 years.

In the meantime, this very readable, very relatable book will help you see far in the past and possibly imagine far in the future.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

I’m an East Coast woman, living on land colonized three hundred years ago. I know nothing of the Navajo, nothing of the desert, and my only experience with a mesa was a family trip decades ago.

In other words, everything about the world of Trail of Lightning‘s protagonist, Maggie Hoskie, should feel absolutely foreign to me.

Well, I mean, some of it is certainly supposed to be foreign to anyone. The book takes place in a post-apocalyptic (for White people) Sixth World, where the Navajo gods, heroes, and monsters have resurfaced and started their unnatural lives anew. Don’t get much of that here in the suburbs. (Not really hoping to have Coyote swing by the house either, gotta say.)

I can feel the desert dust on the library shelves, smell the ozone in the air, see the greenish tinge of a nightmare sky, and certainly hear the rez dogs barking.

Rebecca Roanhorse’s characterizations, her world building, her storytelling, captured me in all the right ways. Her characters have complex and shifting motivations. The action is fast-paced and brutally violent, while simultaneously filled with heartbroken love. The supernatural is extremely supernatural.

And at the same time, the stories, the Navajo language, the culture that Rebecca describes, they are all (as much as any fiction story is) real.

Frankly, if I’m going to read kick-ass women kicking ass (and yes, I’m going to read lots of it) I’d much rather be doing it with a culture of real people with a real language and a real history than a fully made-up culture of elves speaking elvish. (And I love elves.)

There are many people and many cultures in this world, and often they’re intermingled and next-door-neighbors with my white colonial upbringing, that I’d never see if writers like Rebecca Roanhorse weren’t bringing them to the forefront. These stories should be heard. They need to be heard. And damn we would be worse off if we didn’t get a chance to hear them.

I loved it.

Swearing is Good for You by Emma Byrne

Okay so first you need to know that I read anything I can get my hands on about how swearing works in the brain. So even though I didn’t know about Swearing Is Good For You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language before I got it for Christmas it was a perfect fit for me.

Second, I learned a lot of things in this book that other reading on the topic hadn’t taught me. For example, there’s an entire chapter on Tourette’s, how it works, and why it really doesn’t fit with the rest of the content of this book because cursing as part of a tic doesn’t behave like any other kind of cursing. Going into this book I had no knowledge of how Tourette’s works. Coming out, I am still a novice, but at least one with hopefully more insight and patience for my fellow humans.

I also learned a ton about how fluency in secondary languages doesn’t necessarily translate to emotional impact — unless you were learning some other aspect of emotional impact (such as the angst of being an adolescent) at the same time you were immersed in your second language. This directly impacts how and in what language you swear.

The book is barely 200 pages and covered neuroscience, pain management, Tourette’s, workplace swearing, chimpanzee swearing, gender and swearing, and swearing in other languages. It does not cover any particular case or topic in depth but rather serves as a well-written and intriguing survey of modern knowledge about the field. Considering that in most cultures the taboos around swearing extend to studying the taboos around swearing, the very presence of the book indicates both shifting cultural norms and the fact that we still have a lot to learn.

I fucking loved this book and recommend it to anyone with interests in linguistics or neuroscience or both.

Abbott by Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivelä, and Jason Wordie

Abbott by Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivelä, and Jason Wordie

Abbott is about a black woman reporter in 1972 Detroit, who investigates a series of murders of an otherworldly nature.

It is excellent.

The tone is both true to its time (from what I’ve heard, as I’m neither from Detroit nor Black nor old enough to have been alive in 1972.)

Abbott doesn’t take any crap from anyone, and at the same time she has her weaknesses and flaws. Her supporting cast and her enemies are not as deeply fleshed-our as the main character, but considering that this book represents only five comics, that’s not a significant concern.

The story is excellent, the art is dynamic and detailed, and the combination makes for a compelling experience. As with all comics, the end of the comic is not the resolution of the main source of conflict, but that’s good, because it may signal more to comic. I hope that Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivelä, and Jason Wordie return to this world to give us another glimpse.

The Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide Volume 5 edited by Corie Weaver and Sean Weaver

Disclaimer: as y’all know, I’m one of the 24 authors. So let me tell you a little about the other 23 stories, because damn this is a good book.

First of all, many science fiction subgenres are represented here. There’s steampunk (and wild west steampunk), battles, space ships, hard sci-fi (Main Character against their environment mostly), soft sci-fi (learning to learn, learning to trust, etc.), space dragons, LOTS of robots, and terraforming, just to name a few.

There’s a story based on Oliver Twist in here, people. Middle-grades sci-fi Oliver Twist.

Lest you think it’s all light fun and games, know that while these stories are written for middle-grade readers and up, the collection tackles some universal topics. There are stories that will make you think about long-term effects of racism or ableism. There are stories that will make you think about loneliness, about death of a family member, about working together in the depth of tragedy.

And there’s also a story of a mechanical monkey stealing a valise, so it’s also not a book I’d call gloomy or too heavy.

In fact, one of the things I love about this book is that pretty much every story ends on an up note. There are plenty of things to think about, yes, but our heroes and heroines succeed. (Well maybe not Pluto.) (It’s not a spoiler when the planet was demoted in 2006!)

As always I am honored to be included around such wonderful stories, but believe you me I’d be reading this thing even if I wasn’t published in it. The Young Explorers Adventure Guides are so good a friend’s non-sci-fi kid devours them every year. I took a copy into work and it disappeared off the swap shelf immediately. This is a good book.