PositiveThe Times (UK)Georgi Gospodinov has terrific fun in Time Shelter creating the world’s first \'clinic for the past\' ... The bald premise here isn’t as fanciful as it might sound ... This is not a realist novel. It is very much a genre-busting novel of ideas. This is a book about memory, how it fades and how it is restored, even reinvented, in the imaginations of addled individuals and the civic discourse of nations ... Gospodinov’s notes on national character and historical determinism threaten to swallow the book ... Gospodinov chillingly describes the process of mental ageing ... His story is strong enough — the tale of an innocent caught up in a harebrained scheme. But Gospodinov is one of those writers who thinks novels can, and perhaps should, contain more than just a story. Notes, for example. Political observations ... Can novels really hold so much? ... The risk with a project like this is that it slips fiction’s tracks and becomes nothing more than an overlong London Review of Books article ... In its garish light, Gospodinov’s fanciful and rambling meditation on midlife crisis, crumbling memory and historical re-enactment acquires a more pointed, political meaning ... Intimate and personal.
Donald Goldsmith and Martin Rees
PositiveThe Times (UK)Our heroic authors take a firmer grip on their cudgels to explain why we should give up on manned space exploration. No, the moon is not rich in helium-3, harvesting it would be a nightmare, and the technology we’d need so we can use it for nuclear fusion remains hypothetical ... For anyone seriously interested in space exploration, this slaughter of impractical ideas in The End of Astronauts will be welcome. Space sciences have for years been struggling to breathe in an atmosphere saturated with hype and science fiction. The superannuated blarney spouted by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos — who basically just want to get into the mining business — isn’t helping. Yet for the rest of us, who just want to see some cool stuff, will no crumb of romantic comfort be left?
PositiveThe Times (UK)For all that it’s stuffed with entertaining oddities, Sentient is not a book about oddities, and Higgins’s argument, though colourful, is rigorous and focused. She leads us to adopt an entirely unfamiliar way of thinking about the senses.
RaveThe Times (UK)[The story of life on Earth] is an epic story, and like most epic stories it cries out for a good editor. In Henry Gee, a British palaeontologist and senior editor of the scientific journal Nature, it has found one. Yet Gee has his work cut out. The story doesn’t really get going until the end. The first two thirds are about slime. And once there are living things worth looking at, they keep keeling over ... It’s perhaps a little bit belittling to cast Gee’s achievement here as mere “editing”. Gee is a marvellously engaging writer, juggling humour, precision, polemic and poetry to enrich his impossibly telescoped account ... Gee’s book is full of such dazzling walk-on parts, but most impressive are the elegant numbers he traces across evolutionary time ... To weave such interconnected wonders into a book the size of a modest novel is essentially an exercise in precis and a bravura demonstration of the editor’s art. Although the book (whose virtue is its brevity) is not illustrated, there are six timelines to guide us through the scalar shifts necessary to comprehend the staggering longueurs involved in bringing a planet to life ... Gee’s final masterstroke as editor is to make human sense, and real tragedy, from his unwieldy story’s glaring spoiler: that life dies at the end.
RaveThe Times (UK)Frank Wilczek’s Fundamentals has gazumped Rovelli handsomely, with a vision that replaces our classical idea of physical creation — \'atoms and the void\' — with one consisting entirely of spacetime, self-propagating fields and properties ... Wilczek’s ten keys are more like ten book ideas, exploring the spatial and temporal abundance of the universe, how it all began, the stubborn linearity of time, how it all will end. What should we make of his decision to have us swallow the whole of creation in one go? In one respect this book was inevitable. It’s what people of Wilczek’s peculiar genius and standing do. There’s even a sly name for the effort: the philosopause. The implication here being that Wilczek has outlived his most productive years and is now pursuing philosophical speculations in his dotage. Wilzcek is not short of insights ... Wilczek, so modest, so straight-dealing, so earnest in his desire to conciliate between science and the rest of culture, turns out to be a true visionary. He has written — as his book gathers pace — a human testament to the moment when the discipline of physics, as we used to understand it, came to a stop.
Rebecca Wragg Sykes
RaveNew ScientistWragg Sykes separates perfectly valid and reasonable questions...from the thinking that casts our ancient relatives as \'dullard losers on a withered branch of the family tree\' ... As an archaeologist with a special interest in the cognitive aspects of stone tool technologies, Wragg Sykes paints a fascinating picture of a field transformed almost beyond recognition over the past 30 years ... An exciting aspect of this book is the way it refreshes our ideas about our own place in hominin evolution.
Daniel Kehlmann, Trans. by Ross Benjamin
RaveThe Times (UK)... a laugh-out-loud-then-weep-into-your-beer comic novel about a war ... you don’t really need to know anything about the Thirty Years’ War, or the eight million dead it left in its wake, or its special significance among the many interminable wars of religion that racked Europe. Still, the more you know, the more ambitious Tyll will prove, the more enormous, the more powerfully condensed ... also a thoroughly contemporary novel. It is artful and ironic and self-conscious. Thank goodness Ross Benjamin ... got the translation gig. He’s a comic virtuoso, aping the clotted complexities of court etiquette, there applying nursery words to convey the narrowness of peasant life, and hitting now and again on rhythms that prove hilarious almost regardless of their content ... you never feel lost. There are clues to how the whole hangs together. One tale throws a telling detail into the air; another catches it neatly, with a wink. Kehlmann juggles his stories as Tyll juggles just about anything you throw at him, usually while he’s balancing on a wire far above the ground, quite often on his head ... operatic in its gestures, and heartbreaking in its absurdity. Kehlmann is at the top of his game.
Oliver W Sacks
RaveThe Telegraph (UK)Seated on the wrong side of the consultant’s desk, pinned to the page by the business end of his own pen, Sacks finds himself describing his own fear. An old man now, he has come to inhabit a story he cannot shape, and dare not conclude. His partial loss of sight, his growing infirmity, and his increasing reliance on his friends, are aspects of a life that is not going to end happily, because lives never do. It is a measure of his artistry that Sacks slots such funk and anxiety into a book that’s mostly about the plasticity and adaptability of the human brain; a book that busily celebrates the indomitability of people who assemble meaningful, enjoyable lives around strokes, blindings, and other more exotic losses ... The Mind’s Eye is about the possibility of recovery and the inexorable decline of the ageing individual. From this collision of incompatible truths, tragedy is made ... But...there’s no denying it works, making The Mind’s Eye Sacks’s most powerful book to date.
Eugene Vodolazkin, Trans. by Lisa C. Hayden
PositiveThe GuardianVodolazkin’s grip on this narrative is iron-tight, and what we take at first to be Innokenty’s pathology – or the working out of a literary method – turns out to be something much more important: a moral stand, of sorts.
RaveThe GuardianInto this place come the biologist and her colleagues: a surveyor, a linguist, and a psychologist. They are all women. And that is all. Sensitive readers will already have begun to feel their fingers prised loose from the edge of the swimming pool, when it turns out these explorers are unable to divulge their names. ‘Names belonged to where we had come from, not to who we were while embedded in Area X’ … You enter Area X with them, thinking the uncanny must lurk in some particular spot. The lighthouse? The reed beds? The ‘tower’? Very quickly you spot your mistake, as a subtle, well-engineered wrongness turns up in every character, every deed, every observation until, at last, you find yourself afraid to turn the page.