Friday, July 5, 2013

"Scatter, Adapt, and Remember": a Good Read (even if your tastes don't run to apocalypse)

I keep a list of books I want to read.  I used to jot down titles on sticky notes as I read book reviews, but that became unmanageable.  So now I have a little notebook.  I also keep a list of books that are coming at some point that I want to remember to look up.  Annalee Newitz's Scatter, Adapt, and Remember:  How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction has been on that list for over a year, but I can't remember where I first heard of it.

It's a great book, even if you're not crazy about the subject of apocalypse.  It's a book that comes at the subject from a variety of angles.

There's the science angle, of course.  And there's the history angle:  in the first part of the book, Newitz chronicles the mass extinctions that the earth has survived.  She also explores events, like the Bubonic Plague of 1348, which came close to wiping out humanity.  And then, she looks at the lessons learned from those extinctions and how we could use them.

In a move that's unusual for this kind of book, we even get a bit of literary criticism.  Newitz explores the works of Octavia Butler, who is an amazing writer in all sorts of ways.  Butler has a lot to teach us, on this subject and so many others.

What I find intriguing is that Scatter, Adapt, and Remember does not descend into gloom.  It's an oddly hopeful book, for a book that explores mass extinction.  Part IV is a wonderful look at how to build a better city.  And much of the technology we have right now.

She ends the book by looking at how we might survive on other planets.  Once we get to the end of the book, we realize that one of the ways to survive a mass extinction is to run away (the scatter of the title).  How will we get to other planets?  Spaceships?  A giant tube?  There are so many possibilities!

Newitz has done her homework.  She's talked to the experts and read the research.  There are endnotes for nerds like me who want to read more.  There are photos and charts.  And yet it's a highly readable book.  The research side doesn't sink the story aspects.

I like that it's smart:  my brain gets a lot to chew on.  I like that it's not overwhelming, even though it's smart.  The danger with these kind of books is that my lack of formal science training will keep me from understanding and lead to frustration and tears.  This book does not have that effect.  It reminds me of reading science fiction in high school and having my brain expand in ways that didn't happen in formal science classes.

What's also a plus for this book is that the sections could stand on their own, as could the individual chapters.  What that means for readers with busy lives:  you can read a chunk of this book, return to the book a month later, and not have to reread the whole book to remember where you were.  You can dip in and out.  Or you can just read the chunks that interest you.

Being the apocalypse gal that I am, I found it hard to put down, although I didn't read it in one big gulp.  Alas, I'm not having that kind of summer, the kind with huge vistas of reading time.  But I'm happy that this book works so beautifully in this summer of fractured reading time.

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