Interesting Leisure Reading

Unrelated to anything else — just good reads:

Book cover Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Mortenson is a climber who took on a mission to build first one, then more schools for the kids of the Muslim communities in Pakistan, beginning with a village that welcomed him when he staggered into town, lost, after an unsuccessful attempt at K2. He seems to succeed primarily through bravado and good intentions. He is helped in his conflicts with a local entrepreneur who seems intent on stealing the materials for the first school but the man’s own accountant, who believes in Mortenson’s school-building mission. At one point around the time Osama bin Laden flees to Afghanistan, he is kidnapped by partisans who clearly can’t decide whether or not to kill him — and end up by giving him money for his schools.

Engagingly told — the sort of man I’d never want to do business with, or travel with, but who nevertheless manages to charm everyone and, most of all, to succeed at his quixotic task.

book cover

The Company stories by Kage Baker: This is a series of seven science fiction novels and two collections of short stories that will keep fans going. The Company is a 24th century business that has found the secret to immortality. How do you test it? Well, you invent time travel, so you can go back in time, make someone immortal, then look for them in your own time. But of course it’s not that simple — becoming immortal requires major modifications which no one seems to want (though frankly it’s not clear why not).

What does a company do with immortality and time travel? It creates immortal operatives way back in time to acquire resources to make the Company wealthy in the 24th century. Say, hide a da Vinci notebook or a Vermeer painting someplace they can be “discovered” in the 24th century. They can’t change recorded history but they can work within it. (This is the biggest flaw in the premise: what’s recorded history?) Their top secret Time Concordance that tells them what happened when, so they have a record of what happened, including the things they made happen.

But of course it’s not that simple — that wouldn’t keep us reading through several books. We meet several immortal operatives and grow attached to them. We get reflections on what it is to be immortal: don’t get attached to anyone, because only your fellow-operatives won’t die on you; and do your work, because there’s no other meaning to life. Oh, and don’t get depressed, because if you can’t die you can’t commit suicide. (Though you can be dismembered and keep living — a process that reminds me of Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her.) For operatives back in prehistory, there are resorts where they can get a break from roughing it and enjoy “modern” conveniences.

And what’s it like to have the mission of serving mortals and saving what’s valuable in the world when you’re smarter and they just keep creating wars and pollution anyway? Surely the world might be better off without them?

Then there are scheming groups and threats to our protagonists. A love story that crosses centuries and books. And one major mystery.

I haven’t finished the series — I don’t know how she ties up all the story lines and resolves all the mysteries.

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