This post continues my catchup of reviews of books I've read in the past few months. These three books share the theme of time... 1. "Einstein's Dreams" by Alan Lightman <http://www.amazon.com/Einsteins-Dreams/dp/140007780X> This book is a collection of brief "thought experiments" on the nature of time. Each short chapter is presented as a (fictional) dream that Albert Einstein had while he was formulating the Special Theory of Relativity. Some examples include: time is circular; time stands still; time goes backwards; time goes slower the higher up you are. Each dream describes the implications of the particular concept of time on people and how things work. I was drawn to the book by the comparisons with works by Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges. Overall, the book doesn't really works as a traditional "novel", and in my opinion isn't quite in the same league as Calvino's work. But it's still thought-provoking and very enjoyable. Don't be put off by the Einstein reference: you don't need a deep understanding of science to follow each "dream". 2. "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson <http://www.amazon.com/Anathem/dp/006147410X> I really wanted to like this book. Neal Stephenson is, er was, one of my favourite authors. Lately however, he's produced long, drawn-out sagas that haven't really worked for me. I spent so much time reading the book (it's almost 1000 pages long!) that I'll take some shortcuts in this review ;) The novel starts off interestingly enough: "Stephenson conjures a far- future Earth-like planet, Arbre, where scientists, philosophers and mathematicians — a religious order unto themselves — have been cloistered behind concent (convent) walls. Their role is to nurture all knowledge while safeguarding it from the vagaries of the irrational saecular outside world" (from the Amazon page). But after the first third of the book, the real story begins, and ironically I started to lose interest. Again, from the Amazon page: "Anathem is intellectually rigorous and exceedingly complex, even to the point, as the Washington Post avows, of being 'grandiose, overwrought and pretty damn dull'." Yep, that pretty much sums it up. What really grated with me was that, at least in my opinion, the actual science presented didn't hold up. It may be an alternative universe, so a little leeway is acceptable, but the more detail the author goes into about the physics and chemistry in the story, the more implausible it became. Decent editing could probably whittle it down to a tight 300-page novel, and although I still wouldn't have bought the storyline, at least I wouldn't have felt like I'd wasted so much time on it. 3. "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell <http://www.amazon.com/Cloud-Atlas/dp/0375507256> This book has rightly been described as ambitious. It is comprises a series of related stories, presented like an onion or a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls. That is, each story is wrapped by and leads into the next one. The stories span six different eras, each written in a different genre: excerpts from the journal of a 19th Century ocean traveller, letters from a parasitic English musician living in Belgium in the 1930s, a corruption exposé/crime story set in the 1970s, a modern-day story about a publisher trapped against his will in a nursing home, a sci-fi story about genetically-engineered slaves in a corporation-run Korea, and finally, at the core of the book, a post-apocalyptic story about the meeting of a group of feral, post-"Fall" survivors with a custodian of lost technology. Apart from the physical structure of the book, the stories are connected by the suggestion of reincarnation. A central character in each story happens to have a comet-shaped birthmark. Also, each story looks at aspects of human nature, and our relationship to technology, over time. Overall, I found it a worthwhile read. However, the different writing styles made it a little hard going at times.