Saturday, 15 January 2011

REVIEW: Seasons of Life - The Biological Rhythms that Living Things Need to Thrive and Survive, by Russell Foster and Leon Kreitzman (4*)

(Profile Books, 2009)

Foster and Kreitzman's first book, Rhythms of Life, explained the importance of the circadian, or daily, rhythms that animals and plants live by. This second venture shifts the time span outwards and delves into the complexities of circannual, or seasonal, rhythms.

The first chapter is devoted to plants, and the way in which they use circannual rhythms to initiate flowering and other vital events in their yearly cycle. There are chapters on circannual rhythms in animals and birds, including the timing of conception and reproduction, hibernation and migration. These chapters clearly set out the latest research on why and how these rhythms operate, how they contribute to species survival, and demonstrate the way all of nature is connected in a giant web of interdependent species and individuals.

Finally there are chapters on the effects of circannual rhythms on humans. This includes such fascinating topics as the prevalence of certain illnesses at different times of year, birth and death patterns in different seasons, and a chapter on SAD, including research and ideas on its prevention and treatment.

This was definitely not what you would call an easy read. The chapters on animals and plants are very detailed and there is a fair amount of biological terminology to get your head around, as well as diagrams that take a little time to study and understand. That said, Foster and Kreitzman have done a great job at explaining things for the lay reader and making the book as accessible as possible without losing its scientific rigour. The chapters on human circannual rhythms are much easier to understand anyway, approaching the subject on a more sociological basis to reflect both the effects of complex social issues on our lives and the relative lack of knowledge about our human internal clocks. A very worthwhile and interesting read!

Source: I borrowed this book from my local library.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

REVIEW: The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham (4*)

(Penguin, 2008)

This was my first John Wyndham novel and I had no idea what to expect. I wasn't even sure what it was about! I needn't have worried, because it entirely lived up to Wyndham's reputation as a classic science fiction writer.

The plot revolves around a group of children living in a dystopian society obsessed with 'God's True Image'. Anyone and anything that is seen to be 'wrong' is immediately stamped out as an agent of the devil. If a field of crops is less than perfect, it is burned. If a cow is malformed in some way, it is killed. And any human found to be different is stripped, sterilized and sent out into the 'Fringes', an area filled with exiled deviants, to live or die as they will. By taking these measures, the people of Labrador hope to appease God and rebuild the incredible society that existed before the Tribulation that turned the Badlands to deadly black lakes of burnt land and wiped out the 'Old People'. These children, who can communicate with a kind of advanced form of telepathy, know it's only a matter of time before their secret deviation is discovered and they'll have to fight for their lives...

I found this novel to be beautifully written and deeply thought-provoking. The obsession with the 'right' attributes that make someone human reminded me of the Nazi Aryan race, and was quite disturbing to read. There were elements of religion and philosophy, with characters musing on life and spirituality, and the real meaning of humanity. There were messages of tolerance, friendship and love. And behind all this there was a cracking good post-nuclear-apocalypse science-fiction story. With writing this good and plots this fascinating, this certainly won't be my last Wyndham - I think I might have to loan my houseplants out to someone and read 'The Day of the Triffids' next!

  • "The essential quality of life is living; the essential quality of living is change; change is evolution: and we are part of it.  The static, the enemy of change, is the enemy of life..."

Source: I borrowed this book from my local library.