One of the best things about blogs is that you can use them to trumpet the doings of your friends. So as Phil Ball did when he wrote nice things about me, notwithstanding inasmuch as which I shall spread happiness and fluffy kittens concerning books written by friends.
A couple of months back I was granted a sneak preview of a three-volume novel (it’s a novel divided into three parts, rather than a trilogy) called The Waters of Destiny, by Ian Watson and Andy West. You can find all about it at this snappy website, and the first book, Assassins, can be downloaded for free. These authors are usually associated with SF. Watson has a terrific pedigree as a writer of thought-provoking, highly literate SF (The Embedding, The Martian Inca, The Jonah Kit, Alien Embassy and my favorite, Chekhov’s Journey – you can get them all here.) West is a more recent addition to the SF Firmament. Both had stories in this recent anthology, which also featured a much lesser work by me, which Ian edited into acceptability.
But I digress.
The Waters of Destiny is not SF – instead, it’s one of those thrillers in which is combined modern Bond-style pyrotechnics and Medieval esoterica. Think Dan Brown with brains, or Kate Mosse without the longueurs. It does for Islam what Sam Bourne does for Judaism. The heroine is an academic, an expert in the poetesses of Medieval Provence, who got their inspiration from Moslem Spain. One day she gets a visit from a secret service agent, for it turns out that the fragments of ancient verse hold a key to a dreadful crime committed in the past – and what could be an apocalyptic future. I won’t say any more for risk of spoiling things. In any case, you can find more details at the website. Suffice it to say that this book thunders along like a piledriver. If it were in print, no airport lounge bookstall should consider itself properly clothed without heaps of these. But dead tree is so last century. Download it to your e-reader of choice and let the hours fly past.
And now for something completely different. If you read Occam’s Typewriter and so on and so forth in like fashion you’ll certainly know David Bradley, he of ScienceBase. Let it be announced from the rooftops that he has compiled this charming book, Deceived Wisdom, showing that some of the popular Old Wives’ Tales and things you could have sworn were true because you heard them down the pub are, with the appliance of science, just another charabanc of retired shoe manufacturers. Learn that Stradivarius violins are really no better than any other fine fiddle; that dogs are cleverer than cats; and mobile phones don’t make petrol pumps explode. Thrill to discover that jellyfish stings aren’t cured by urinating on them; that there aren’t really seven colours in a rainbow; ‘detox’ cures make no difference to your health, and (my favourite) that herbs, supplements and exercises do not increase the size of one’s manhood. And much, much more.
Good things come in small packages, and I read it in a single session. It’s a book you can dip into, one of those things that no well-stocked shelf in the Smallest Room should be without, such as Please Take Advantage Of The Chambermaid, X-Treme Latin and Poetry for Cats.
True, some of this has been done to death elsewhere by the likes of St Benjamin of Goldacre. And I could have done with more detail on some of these topics. For example, one of my jobs as an editor at Your Weekly Professional Science Magazine Beginning With N is to keep an eye on papers on biomechanics, so I should have liked some more detail on just how bumblebees fly when popular wisdom says they should be as aerodynamic as a sack of spanners. But then I am a crusty, hardened and jaded old hack: if you want a stocking-filler for the geek in your life, especially if they are teenagers and mightn’t have come across these before, then this has to be it.