Jim Shepard: ‘Love and Hydrogen’

It’s been a slow few weeks for reading. So much for summer beach reads–I either need to spend more time on the beach or pick a shorter book! I love short stories, even if they do read a bit slower than a juicy novel. If you’re burnt out (no pun intended!) on summer romances, try Jim Shepard’s Love and Hydrogen–despite the title, most of the stories are not about love.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this book for me was seeing the influence it had to have had on another book I recently discussed: Ethan Rutherford’s The Peripatetic Coffin. The collections have so much in common and while the writing styles are very different, the subject matter is not. Both writers are clearly interested in evolution. They approach this topic by fictionalizing accounts of historic explorations, people and events. One of the more vivid stories in Love and Hydrogen is the title story, about the German airship Hindenburg. There’s also a story about a part-human swamp creature that has lived through evolutionary changes to see the adaptation of other species, and one about an explorer who risks his life to get a glimpse of an enormous shark.

Like Rutherford’s stories, some of Shepard’s have inevitable endings, but which don’t take away from the suspense of the story. And similarly, they show a fascination with the steps that we as humans have taken on this planet to discover and learn about our surroundings.

At a time when our planet and our civilization is in serious jeopardy (no, maybe not in our lifetime, but we are already seeing the effects of global warming, yes?), it’s interesting to look back on those firsts: the first time a new animal was seen, the first time anyone saw what was half a mile under the surface of the ocean, etc. These days, a lot of our firsts do not have to do with exploration, they have to do with technology. Which is not a bad thing. A lot of amazing technological discoveries have been made which lead to life-altering and life-saving inventions. But it’s fun to look back at some of the early discoveries we made and to put things in perspective. I was recently on a long weekend vacation in Florida, where I had the chance to take a midnight dip in the pool and do some stargazing. Without the city lights, I could really see the sky–and I realized it had been a long time since I had. If you happen to be going on a remote vacation before the end of summer, a sailing trip, a visit to an unpopulated island, a camping trip, or just somewhere that you can see the stars, take a few minutes to reflect on how you got there and how much of a mystery this planet still is.

Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.

Image from Powells.com

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