The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Don't believe anyone who promises to explain string theory or M-theory. That's all I'm saying. Cos no one can. Because no one knows what's really going on! And if Stephen Hawking doesn't know what's going on with dark matter and ten or eleven or twelve dimensions and can't posit a cogent theory of everything, well, it just doesn't bear thinking about.*
Hawking and Mlodinow's premise is to address the question of whether the universe was designed or whether it popped spontaneously into existence and continued merrily on it's way to the point we're now at (assuming that time is linear, which we can't of course; that would be far too much to hope for, things being as simple as that), and it's true that this is what at least half this book is about. The other half is gibberish that only physicists would understand. Still, an interesting read. And I felt very brainy holding it up on the train.
*And even if he could, geniuses aren't very good at explaining things to laypeople. Hawking should have told this book to Bill Bryson, who could have then passed on the important bits to us. And the jokes would have been funnier.
Genesis: The Rosie Black Chronicles, Lara Morgan
Gotta love a YA sci-fi novel by an Australian author, set in Australia! Well, I do. Genesis is an adventure story set in Newperth 500 years in the future, a time when colonies exist on Mars and terrible diseases plague the earth. Though Morgan insists that Genesis, the first in a trilogy, is dystopian rather than sci-fi, I'm inclined to lean towards the latter. Genesis has a definite sci-fi grounding with a post-apocalyptic flavour. After the discovery of a mysterious box, Rosie and her friend set off a beacon and a series of events that will have great importance to the future of the human race as well as shed some light on the death of Rosie's mother. The adventure takes Rosie to Mars, and one of my favourite sequences was a hair-raising planet fall (look at me picking up the lingo) in a tiny pod down to Mars's surface.
The Princess Bride, William Goldman
This one is actually three quarters read and I don't know if I'm going to be able to finish it. It's DARK. Seriously dark. Torture and death and true love not seeming to conquer anything. It started off brightly enough--and I have to say Golding's forewords had me enthralled. Pretending not to be the author, I think that's just brilliant. And the things he said about his ex-wife and son! I saw the film many, many years ago and thought it utter rubbish. Someone made the mistake of saying, "If you love Labyrinth you'll love The Princess Bride." Um. NO. So of course I hated it because it does not hold a sputtering candle to my beloved Labyrinth, and also because it's so CORNY. All those silly asides. The stupid phrases. But the book is beautifully written and actually very witty...it just gets rather disturbing and I remember nothing past Wesley and Buttercup tumbling down into the ravine in the film so I can't remember if it has a happy ending or not.
Should I go on and just finish it?
The Last Question by Isaac Asimov
After reading several stories in I, Robot, I moaned to a friend that Asimov couldn't write a decent character to save his life. He agreed, and sent me a link to this story (which I have provided to you; click the title above), saying Asimov's stories are far better when they're pure ideas. How true. The Last Question is pure ideas, and it's a very engaging read.