An update on what I've been reading recently, covering World War II, Science Fiction and the Grand Canyon. I finally finished my copy of Rick Atkinson's Pulitzer-winning book An Army At Dawn, the first in his ongoing Liberation Trilogy. I had started the book a long time ago, when I was in college, but for whatever reason, I'd never gotten around to finishing it. This time around, I was able to get through the whole thing, although it is a bit of a dense read. However, the book is chock full of details about the North African Campaign of 1942, from the beginning of the war, where the origins of the invasion were first explored, to the final battles when the German and Italian forces were driven off of the continent. This book isn't written in a vacuum either - all aspects of the campaign are explored in vivid detail. The logistics, politics, tactics, the soldiers on the front, and more is looked at over the course of the entire segment of the Second World War, one that hasn't really been explored to the extent to which other battles have been. By far, this is the best book that I've read about the African campaign during WWII.
The next book that I picked up is a new one from Adam Roberts, called the History Of Science Fiction. This is a field that holds great interest for me - and this book certainly explores the course that Science Fiction has taken - in this case, since the Ancient Greeks. This book was a little mixed for me. While it holds an incredible amount of information on the field, it's a little densely written - this book is more academic than other books that I've looked at, such as Geeks, Gangsters and the Men of Tomorrow, but it's still a fairly accessible read. Robert's main thesis concerns the changes in Science Fiction dating back to the split between Catholicism and Protestantism, between I and It and humanity (soft scifi) vs science (hard sci-fi). The thesis is interesting, but I'm not wholly won over by his arguments to this. The historical content here is in depth and fascinating. Exploring various definitions of Science Fiction based on what numerous critics have come up with, and tracing the roots of the genre since the Ancient Greeks, further expanding the field. However, it's once we reach the late 19th - 20th century with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells that the story really picks up and gets interesting, going through the golden age, new wave and modern science fiction. Once up to the 1990s, the pace drops off and seems much more constrained to the real contemporary items. Authors such as Alistair Reynolds, Ben Bova, Nancy Kress, Ken McLeod, Charles Stross, Karen Traviss and Richard Morgan are either mentioned briefly or not at all, while Science Fiction TV, is passed over with little mention at all, with only the new Battlestar Galactica really talked about. Other shows, such as Babylon 5, the various Star Treks, Stargate SG-1, Firefly and several others have had huge impacts on the field of science fiction, and by and large, media tie-ins aren't really discussed. Furthermore, the impact of fan groups isn’t discussed in too much detail either. Overall, it's a good read, but some aspects of discussion were a bit of a letdown, particularly with the 1990s. However, the passages that cover the 1930s through the 1970s are very well done.
Finally, the last book that I've finished recently was entitled How The Canyon Became Grand, a short read on the cultural and scientific history on the Grand Canyon, from the earliest encounters from explorers to today. The book is a fascinating read, one that covers a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from science, art, exploration and society. The canyon, fittingly, is the result of several geologic events coming together: the rise of the Colorado Plateau, the earlier deposition and depression of seafloor sediments and the Colorado River flowing during the uplift. Like its creation, the canyon lies at a number of intersections of American culture, helping build the United States Geological survey, becoming a corner stone of western exploration and now tourism and the National Park Service. This is explored as a perennial American creation, as the views of the canyon first appear as an impediment to exploration, a blemish on the landscape, to one of sheer beauty and majesty.