JohnDesu Reviews

Rabid: A Culture History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik

Summary

The most fatal virus known to science, rabies—a disease that spreads avidly from animals to humans—kills nearly one hundred percent of its victims once the infection takes root in the brain. In this critically acclaimed exploration, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy chart four thousand years of the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies. From Greek myths to zombie flicks, from the laboratory heroics of Louis Pasteur to the contemporary search for a lifesaving treatment, Rabid is a fresh and often wildly entertaining look at one of humankind’s oldest and most fearsome foes.

Introduction

A recent episode of the RadioLab podcast told the story of Jeanna Giese, a teenager from Wisconsin whom developed symptoms of rabies after being bitten by a bat while attending church with her family. After being admitted to the hospital, her diagnosis was confirmed. Rabies is generally considered 100% fatal once a victim has started to show symptoms. Dr. Willougby, Jeanna’s doctor, spent time researching rabies and any recent discoveries in the treatment of it. Willougby didn’t find anything too promising, but did learn that medical history has shown most rabies deaths are caused by temporary brain dysfunction with little to no damage occurring to the brain itself.

Armed with this knowledge, Willougby and his team devised an experimental treatment for Jeanna. His goal was to put Giese into a medically induced coma to protect her from her brain, with the hope that she would survive long enough for her immune system to produce the antibodies to fight off the virus. Giese was brought out of the coma after six days, once it was clear that her immune system had made progress against the virus. She recovered slowly and not without difficulty, but she did recover completely. This made Giese the first confirmed victim of rabies to survive after showing symptoms.

Willougby’s experimental procedure was called the Milwaukee protocol, and while it seems to have worked for Jeanna, further attempts on other rabies victims has caused a lot of controversy. The reasons for Giese’s survival under the Milwaukee protocol are not straightforward. It’s been shown that other people have survived the virus due to already having rabies antibodies without exhibiting any symptoms. So it’s not really possible to say that the protocol did or didn’t save her life.

I found that story to be quite captivating and suggest taking a listen to the RadioLab episode for more information.

Now, onto the review of Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik.

Review

After listening to the previously mentioned RadioLab episode I was interested to learn more about this virus. After finding the book Rabid, I decided to give it a read. Rabid is mostly a history of rabies with a couple of interesting case studies at the end of the book.

The history starts right at the beginning, with the first written record of rabies in the Mesopotamian Codex of Eschnunna, which dictates that the owner of a dog showing symptoms of rabies should take preventative measures against bites. If another person were bitten by a rabid dog and later died, the owner was heavily fined. From here, Wasik continues covering other early rabies beliefs, treatments and general understand of the virus. He then moves onto Medieval times, the 18th century, and the 19th century. There is also a chapter discussing the possible links between rabies and the emergence of vampires, werewolves, and lycanthropes.

My favorite chapter of the book was a chapter dedicated to Louis Pasteur and his creation of the first rabies vaccination. This is a guy with enough medical achievements and discoveries to make almost anybody feel like they aren’t contributing enough to society. Not only did he develop vaccines for rabies and anthrax, he laid the foundation for the discovery of germ theory of disease. But perhaps what he is best known for is his invention for treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination, a process now called pasteurization. Pasteur definitely deserves to be called the “father of microbiology”. This chapter was interesting enough to me that I may have to seek out a biography on this guy.

The book concludes with two chapters that serve as more focused case studies of rabies treatment, rather than a more broad history of the virus. The first is a chapter with in-depth coverage of the Jeanna Giese story and the creation of the Milwaukee protocol as a potential treatment for rabies. The final chapter in the book discusses the outbreak of rabies on Bali after a rabid dog was brought to the island on a boat. Before this happened, Bali was a completely rabies free island. We learn here about the difficulty of culling a widespread outbreak of rabies and how quickly actions must be taken to have any effect on its spread at all. Definitely two very solid chapters to finish out the book.

Verdict

An excellent book for anyone interested in learning about rabies. Though a bit slow with the history in the beginning, the second half of the book really teaches a lot about the disease and how difficult it is to treat and stop from spreading. I recommend this book quite a lot actually, and don’t worry about skimming the early chapters if you aren’t interested in the early history of rabies.

One warning though, since reading this book I’ve become quite suspicious of the rabbits and squirrels that occupy my yard.

Rating - B

In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss

Summary

In the Forest of Forgetting showcases such stories as “The Rose in Twelve Petals,” “The Rapid Advance of Sorrow,” “Lily, With Clouds,” “In the Forest of Forgetting,” “Sleeping With Bears” and many more, with an introduction by Terri Windling and cover by Virginia Lee.

Review

A great collection of (quite) short stories by Theodora Goss. They mostly fall into a category I’d call fantasy, but some are more closely related to fairy tales. I’ll go over each story briefly.

The Rose in Twelve Petals

A broken-up retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I’m not super familiar with the original tale, but this story is set in Medieval Europe and told in twelve parts.

Professor Berkowitz Stands on the Threshold

A professor and a French poet meet at a place-between-the-worlds (of life and death perhaps?), and offered a choice. I’m still not too sure about this story or why the professor ultimately made the choice that he did.

The Rapid Advance of Sorrow

Very surreal piece of writing about having a relationship with a revolutionary. This was actually the first piece of Goss’s writing that I read and what originally made me seek out this collection of stories. Beautiful, poetic, well-paced.

Lily, With Clouds

Two sisters who have not seen each other in a long time. One has cancer and is dying so they are brought back together one last time. Mostly just a conversation, relatively effective, but without any closure.

Miss Emily Gray

Emily Gray is introduced here. She is a governess who grants children’s wishes, generally at a terrible price. This story didn’t do much for me.

In The Forest of Forgetting

This story is the namesake for the collection, and is an allegory about a woman dying of cancer. Way too obvious to be effective for me. Probably the weakest story of the collection in fact.

Sleeping With Bears

An allegory which compares men to bears. Pretty humorous.

Letters From Budapest

This story stands out as one of my favorites. It is a dark Hungarian story about an undead artist that steals the talent of young male artists, leaving them in an alive, but untalented state.

The Wings of Meister Wilhelm

A great story with a lot to say about the tragedy of European anti-semitism. We follow a young girl, her violin instructor and his dream to visit a city in the clouds, even if it means his death. Another one of my favorites.

Conrad

Emily Gray returns, this time helping a young boy who is being slowly poisoned by his family.

A Statement in the Case

This may be my favorite story in the collection. Not a whole ton happens, but the pace and descriptions really kept me interested in the story. A witness is questioned about the possible arson of a pharmacy. He realizes what he thought he saw may not actually have been what happened.

Death Comes for Ervina

An old ballerina; a visit from an old lover. Not for me.

The Belt

A fairy tale about a belt which may be a metaphor for one or many morals to this story.

Pip and the Fairies

A very light and fun story. As a child, Pip was the subject of some stories written by her mother that gained some success and have turned Pip into a bit of celebrity as an adult. Revisiting her past has caused her to wonder if the stories she told her mother (and her mother wrote about) were true or just her imagination as a child.

Lessons with Miss Gray

The final story in the collection and another Emily Gray story. Three girls are offered lessons by Miss Gray in witchcraft. They become obsessed with it. Some interesting events occur.

Verdict

In the Forest of Forgetting is a fantastic collection of short stories sure to please readers of all types. While not every story was a home run for me, the ones that stood out to me were excellent indeed.

My favorites stories (in no particular order): - Pip and the Fairies - A Statement in the Case - Letters from Budapest - The Wings of Meister Wilhelm

I look forward to reading Theodora Goss again in the future. She has a poetry collection Songs for Ophelia coming out soon, which you can find out more about at her website.

Rating - A-

The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman

Summary

Lyra and Will, the two ordinary children whose extraordinary adventures began in The Golden Compass and continued in The Subtle Knife, are in unspeakable danger. With help from the armored bear Iorek Byrnison and two tiny Gallivespian spies, they must journey to a gray-lit world where no living soul has ever gone. All the while, Dr. Mary Malone builds a maagnificent amber spyglass. An assassin hunts her down. And Lord Asriel, with troops of shining angels, fights his mighty rebellion, a battle of strange allies—and shocking sacrifices.

As war rages and Dust drains from the sky, the fate of the living—and the dead—finally comes to depend on two children and the simple truth of one simple story. The Amber Spyglass reveals that story, bringing Philip Pullman’s His Dar Materials to an astonishing conclusion.

Review

The third and final book of His Dark Materials, the Amber Spyglass, is the longest and largest of the series. By largest, I’m not just referring to the size of the book, but the scale and breadth of the story and worlds. The story takes place in quite a few different parallel worlds and there is a lot going on.

Before I delve into any plot points, let’s revisit something I brought up in my review of The Golden Compass: the anti-religious themes of the series. Well, they are there for sure, but I don’t think they are as blatant and egregious as many would make them out to be. Depending on the age of the reader, I would say that many children would have a hard time distinguishing Pullman’s rhetoric from the plot of the story. They all may just kind of meld together. In fact, when I originally read this book, I didn’t pick up many of the anti-religious themes or details. One point I’ve seen brought up in other reviews, is that Will and Lyra kill God. For a certainty, it does happen. But God isn’t ever really described as the one God in the novel, and they don’t really kill him. He just kind of falls apart due to his fragility. I’m sure there are plenty of ways to read deeper into the moment of his death (I can think of a few), but I don’t really understand why people seem so caught up on that happening.

Alright, back to Lyra and Will, our two protagonists. A couple interesting things to note about these two that I think is somewhat rare for young adult literature. Will is (as he says many times through the books) a murderer and Lyra is a liar. Will isn’t any axe-wielding maniac or anything, but he does kill people and does identify himself as a murderer. Also just as true is categorizing Lyra as a liar. To me she doesn’t seem much worse than many children, but she does lie a lot to escape problems or even just embellish a story. Saying all that, I think that both Lyra and Will are extremely convincing protagonists and watching their relationship develop throughout the books is one of my favorite parts of the story.

So, I’m going to start putting the summary of my reviews before the spoiler filled part of my review. That way you can read my opinion of the books I review and not have to risk the spoilers.

There isn’t much else to say about His Dark Materials that I haven’t already touched upon in my reviews of the other books. It’s a fast-paced young adult fantasy that I think is full of great characters, settings, and plot points. Read it if you’re young, read it if you’re old!

WARNING! THE REST OF THE REVIEW IS ALL ABOUT THE SPOILERS!

More on Will now. Will is loyal, clever, honest and strong. He always wants to do the right thing and that drives me crazy. By the end of the book, Will and Lyra are madly in love. Will decides he must do the right thing and they will leave open only once window between worlds, the window between the land of the dead and world of the Mulefa. That drives me insane! I appreciate Will’s want to do the best thing for the worlds by limiting how much dust can move between worlds, but I think that occasionally opening one more window just so he can be with Lyra and travel home when he needs to won’t mess every thing up. Alright, alright, so a Spectre will be created every time a window is open. Well, Xaphania says she has that situation under control. Okay, maybe that won’t last forever. Still, one more window being open can’t hurt the situation too much! Personally, I’d like to believe in True Love and that’s why the ending of this book is so painful for me. Will and Lyra belong together! It really sucks having to watch them split forever.

Mrs. Coulter. An intrinsically evil woman, who ends up giving up everything to protect her daughter Lyra. It’s cool how she never stopped being evil, she lied and seduced everyone all the way to her death.

Iorek. Still a badass armored bear. Enough said.

Mary Malone. I really liked her character and her role in the story. Her interactions with the mulefa were fun for me as well. They were spaced out nicely in the book alongside Lyra and Will’s storyline.

Finally, Pantalaimon. Man do I wish I had a dæmon to keep me company. I thought it was really fun concept that Pullman explored here and added a lot to the story. Probably boosted the enjoyability level for younger readers as well. I know it did for me when I originally read His Dark Materials.

Verdict

This Book - B+

The Series - A

The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman

Summary

Lyra finds herself in a shimmering, haunted underworld—Cittàgazze, where soul-eating Specters stalk the streets and wingbeats of distant angels sound against the sky. But she is not without allies: 12-year-old Will Parry, fleeing for his life after taking another’s, has also stumbled into this strange new realm.

On a perilous journey from world to world, Lyra and Will discover an object of devastating power. And with every step, they move closer to an even greater threat—and the shattering truth of their own destiny.

Review

The Subtle Knife is the second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. It takes the story in a ultimately darker and more frightening direction than the first book did, yet I still think that a “young adult” label is appropriate for it. While many young adult books, especially of the fantasy genre, are reassuring and safe, Pullman is not afraid to make his younger readers think.

Spoilers from the first and second book are plentiful ahead and I would suggest giving them a read before reading further in this review.

The Subtle Knife introduces a second protagonist, Will Parry, a boy from England in our earth (The Golden Compass took place in an alternate Earth). Will and his mother, who is not mentally well, are being chased by government types over Will’s father’s disappearance. Will doesn’t know much about his father as he disappeared during a mysterious arctic expedition when Will was still a baby. As he is attempting to escape from the people chasing him, one of whom he accidentally killed by pushing down a flight of stairs, will stumbles upon an opening to another world parallel earth called Cittàgazze. He enters into a seemingly deserted city by the sea where he eventually meets Lyra, who entered this same world at the end of The Golden Compass.

Lyra still doesn’t know exactly why she entered this world, but knows it has something to do with Dust and Lord Asriel (her father). She eventually consults the alethiometer which tells her she must help Will find his father at all costs. Will and Lyra hunt for clues together and travel back-and-forth between Cittàgazze and Will’s world. During their travels, Lyra meets a scientist who is studying dark matter. This dark matter is actually what Lyra and people from her world call Dust.

The alethiometer is stolen from Lyra by a man in Will’s world at one point, and in order to get it back, this man instructs Lyra and Will to get an important object from Cittàgazze for him. This object is the subtle knife, a knife capable of cutting windows between worlds…

Pullman continues to keep the pace of the series locked to fourth-gear with hardly a dull moment to be found. We mostly follow Lyra and Will in this book, but there are a few chapters dedicated to Lee Scoresby and Serrafina Pekkala as well.

Will, more than Lyra, seems to be the focus of this novel. His obtaining of the subtle knife and his realization of his ultimate goal are both somewhat bittersweet moments, as Will realizes that both knowledge and power have a price. Will is a welcome addition to the story and his relationship with Lyra is interesting to follow as it develops both in this book and in the final book, The Amber Spyglass.

Other than the Will and Lyra chapters that make up the majority of this book, we also get chapters showing what Serafina Pekkala and Lee Scoresby are up to. These are interesting chapters as they allow the reader to get a broader view of the going-ons of the world(s) as a whole.

No real complaints about this novel. As I mentioned in The Golden Compass review, it sometimes seems like things are a bit too convenient for Lyra (and now Will). This continues to be true somewhat but it keeps the novel moving at a relentless pace, so I certainly don’t mind it.

Verdict

A surprisingly great middle book in the His Dark Materials Triology. The introduction of Will as the second main protagonist is very welcome. Highly recommended.

Rating - A

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Summary

Lyra Belaqua is content to run wild among the scholars of Jordan College, with her daemon familiar Pantalaimon always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle—a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armored bears. And as she hurtles toward danger in the cold, far North, young Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: She alone is destined to win, or to lose, this more-than-mortal battle.

Review

Philip Pullman’s dark fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, apparently written for children, is actually literature of a much higher order. The title of the trilogy comes from a powerful passage of Milton’s Paradise Lost, the great religious epic poem whose central story is the thematic basis for this trilogy.

Into this wilde Abyss,
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixt
Confus’dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look’d a while,
Pondering his Voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.

— Paradise Lost, Book 2, lines 910–920

As a whole, His Dark Materials gets a lot of heat from the Christian community. Pullman himself has said that he wrote the series to challenge the religious beliefs of children. You can find many, many reviews online tearing into the book for the above reason and many others. I don’t agree with this sentiment myself and think it’s good for children and adults to have their beliefs challenged from time to time so they can weigh multiple possibilities themselves and make an educated choice based on their own thoughts, not others.

I originally read this book (and the rest of His Dark Materials) when I was fifteen years old. I remember reading it during my Latin classes not wanting it to ever end. It made a huge impression on me and I’m honestly very surprised it took me this long to read it again.

The novel tells the story of a young girl named Lyra Belacqua (and her daemon Pantalaimon) who is destined to save the world. Lyra grows up essentially parentless but lives among the scholars and staff of the Jordan College in Oxford. Her life is rather ordinary up until a visit from a woman named Mrs. Coulter. Her visit and the kidnapping of her childhood friend Roger leads to a series of strange occurrences that eventually lead Lyra to the coldest and darkest part of the earth, the North.

As I mentioned above, The Golden Compass is aimed at “young adults”. I would not let this deter you if you’re interested in reading the book. There is a lot to enjoy and think about for pretty much any age group. The plots may be less complex than A Game of Thrones or other “adult” fantasy, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the story at all.

Let’s touch on daemons. In Pullman’s universe, a human’s inner-self manifests itself as an animal-shaped “daemon” that has to always stick with its human counterpart. Daemons generally only talk to their own human and touching another’s daemon is “the grossest breach of etiquette imaginable”. Daemons and their relationship to their human counterpart ends up playing a significant role in the plot of The Golden Compass. Anyways, daemons are kind of awesome and it’d be pretty badass to have one myself.

A human being with no dæmon is like someone without a face, or with their ribs laid open and their heart torn out: something unnatural and uncanny that belonged to the world of night-ghasts, not the waking world of sense.

The characters Pullman has created for this trilogy I’ve found to be extremely likable. Plus, there are armored polar bears. Yes, bears wearing plate armor that live far in the North that are pretty much awesome all around. Iorek Byrnison is one of the armored bears who accompanies Lyra for part of her journey. Roger is one of Lyra’s friends from Jordan college who is kidnapped and is one of Lyra’s main motivations for traveling to the North. Lee Scoresby is a Texan aeronaut who flies balloons. You read right, a Texan Aeronaut. There are a few other significant characters in the series as well but I can’t really introduce them without some spoilers. So, while there aren’t a whole ton of characters in the first book, they all play an important role and I like them all.

On to the one thing I can find to nitpick about. Things are too convenient for Lyra. Any time she faces some challenge or roadblock, the person or thing she needs to get past it is suddenly there in front of her. It’s all just too nicely laid out for her at times. This isn’t all bad though as it keeps the story moving moving moving. Once The Golden Compass gets going it doesn’t slow down and it packs a lot of story in for a relatively short book.

Verdict

Loved it as a child, loved it even more as an adult. Still a book I would recommend to anyone looking for something imaginitive and and unique to read.

This Book - A