Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization by Amanda H Podany (The Great Courses)

This is different to what I usually write about in that it is about solely an audio book. This is only a brief write up but I want to bring it to your attention none the less.

On my list of audio books on Audible one of my personal favourites is this one which is part of the The Great Courses series of lectures. It tells of the history of the peoples of Mesopotamia including how they lived, their culture and beliefs from the Sumerians to the Akkadians and Babylonians. We learn that they hold the achievement of being the first or at least the earliest known users of a written script and caused advancements in maths among other things. We also learn how this ancient script was deciphered in the more relative modern era along with discoveries and rediscoveries of the civilisations and cities that have been found by archaeologists. We get to learn of such notable people like Sir Leonard Woolley and his discoveries for example.

Unlike history books that can come across as a bit dry or encyclopedia entries that can be a bit matter of fact, Professor Podany puts her own personal touch in the lectures and talks about her own connection with the ancient peoples she discusses. Due to how ancients texts have been preserved (via clay inscriptions) she tells us of information about everyday people other than kings and warriors and such like and how she has felt linked with these people despite being thousands of years away from them. Her passion for her subject is evident in the way she presents.

We also get to hear a little bit about Podany herself and I’m not going to lie I fell in love with her a little bit. Talking about her love for her subject and how she became interested in it. What surprised me was that the student rock band she quit in college to concentrate on her studies became known as The Bangles… as in The Bangles.

This is a superb introduction to the topic and there are many more works from Padany and a number of writers out there so I recommend you give it a look. It’s interesting how although so faraway from us in distance and time and very much so culturally, there is a lot of the familiar about the Mesopotamian peoples.

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

Most of the science fiction works I have read have been dominated almost entirely by Europe and North America so it would be nice from time to time to come across works of science fiction from other parts of the globe to see a different perspective. I had to look no further than The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu from China. The Three Body Problem is no space opera, it’s more of the hard science fiction you would get from the likes of Arthur C Clarke and even then you could argue it’s harder than that.

This is part one of a trilogy but I thought I would do the books separately on the grounds that each book appears different to the other and I have only skimmed through the third one.

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. I was quite impressed by the English edition by Tor Books

The Three Body Problem starts during the Chinese Cultural Revolution but most of it takes place in the present day (2000s in this case). There is a number of characters in this book and things start to develop when one of the characters gets a job with the Chinese state and manages to make contact with aliens. What was interesting was that the first alien response suggests that the aliens are not a united force, they pretty much say ‘you shouldn’t of brought us to your attentions, some of us aren’t that nice’. After this occurs, over the years strange things start to happen.

I won’t go into too much detail about the story other than to say scientists start to die suspiciously, realities get manipulated (one person starts to see a countdown through his vision which he can’t explain). A weird MMORPG video game appears that has some link to the events and then once the cat is out of the bag the humans take sides on if we should welcome the aliens or not. Through reasons explained in the book, although the invasion is yet to occur, they are definitely on to the people of Earth and they admit to us that they will be on the way and it’s up to the humans to get ready for this. Already as I am explaining it to you, there is so much going on as the story progresses.

The Three Body Problem being a work of hard science fiction has some fascinating science that I had to look up to understand (The Three Body Problem itself being one of them) and I can understand for some readers that it may not be the most appealing thing but for me gave me some depth to the story. The dialogue in the story is intelligent and we get to see how some thoughts and opinions of characters are made. Though I don’t think this is for everyone, but for those who will like it will not be disappointed. We do not see the aliens in this book but we do see the results of their actions and the impending doom they wish to bring and how it affects everyone.

The Three Body Problem is a very intelligent work of Science Fiction and in noway does it insult its reader. Although part of a trilogy it could easily stand alone as being one good piece of work (arguably like the original space opera Star Wars) it can easily work on its own without the need of the others. I urge you to give this one a look if you haven’t done so already.

The Collected Ainu Legends of Chiri Yuki

These short tales recorded by Chiri Yukie before she died only 19 are of the folk tales told by the Ainu of Hokkaido. Very nature orientated and some funny ones included as well. I wish there were more.

The stories including the Owl God and the fox will amuse and it’s just good to see what feels like a different world and the beleifs within it.