Posts Tagged ‘Books’

What I read on my vacation

May 3rd, 2015 by Reinder

Over the past few years, the amount of time I spent on recreational reading has shriveled to a pale shadow of what it once was. In 2014, I read two novels; in 2013 only one. This is not who I am, so when I had two weeks off without any travel plans, I decided to get back in the habit. The Hugo controversy helped, but it was not my sole motivation. My reading speed is not what it once was, and there were some other things that needed doing, but I did get a few nice novels under my belt as well as some critical writing. Here's what I read over the past two weeks:

The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
A lovely fantasy of manners/court intrigue (let's call this genre a Ferrero Rocher Opera) that I enjoyed but ultimately did not love. Very much a case of not-my-thing done very well. Likely to be my No. 3 pick for the Hugos this year. Read Martin Wisse's more insightful review or just buy it from Amazon US/Amazon UK.

The Three-Body Problem – Liu Cixin, translation Ken Liu
My likely No. 1 pick for the Hugos this year. A much harder Science Fiction novel carefully plotted around the limitations of sub-light-speed communication, taking in the broad sweep of history over the 50-year period that first contact would take under these conditions, if the civilization you're contacting lives as nearby as theoretically possible. One that I personally couldn't put down. Buy from Amazon US/Amazon UK.

TARDIS Eruditorum - An Unauthorized Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 2: Patrick Troughton   Philip Sandifer
This second volume of Doctor Who-related writings fom Philip Sandifer did not impress me as much as the first. It seemed to me that compared to the first one, it had undergone less revision from the original versions as posted on Sandifer's blog (where you can read the majority of the articles for free). This is just a subjective impression, because even on a vacation I still don't have the time to go through the different versions and compare them directly, but it's one that's backed up by a number of mechanical editing errors I spotted. It's also based on the style of the writing, which is less fluid than Sandifer's is today, and considerably more bloggy than I remembered the first volume being. Also, I kinda dropped out of my attempt at watching the whole classic series during the Troughton years, which means I have less of a connection with this era than with the Hartnell era, which I've seen nearly all existing episodes of. All that being said, Sandifer is one of the best and most accomplished critics writing about Doctor Who today and I recommend buying these books just to subsidize his new writing. Buy from Amazon US/Amazon UK.

The Day the World Turned Upside Down (Novelette) – Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translation Lia Belt
This will likely be the only work I will vote for in the Hugo Best Novelette category, and I may put it below No Award. I can overlook that it doesn't work that well as What We Think Of When We Think Of A Speculative Fiction story, but I can't get over the unlikability of the narrator/protagonist, with the narrative itself being consistently on his side (there is no sign that the narrator/protagonist is aware of what a douche he is, or that he should be. The case for no-awarding it is made in this review by Secritcrush on Livejournal. I didn't read the events in the story as magical realism, but as literary parallelism, but while such a reading is easier to enjoy, it doesn't remove the protagonist's issues entirely. Read for free at Lightspeed magazine, so you don't have to take my word for it.

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie
Not a Hugo nominee this year, but the book that won all the major awards last year and the prequel to the Leckie novel that is nominated for Best Novel this year. I read the blurb for this one after I took it home, and immediately showed it to my wife, because she plays (played, honestly) Halo and read several Halo novels. I haven't read any of those or played the game myself, but she's told me enough about them to suggest that when the back of a book talks about warships and ship AIs given flesh, that's something that she'd be interested in. She said she was and also that she'd actually heard of the Imperial Radch series that this is the first novel in. Er, I just wrote 500 words on this book today so I don't feel like recapping it right now. Buy it on Amazon US/Amazon UK.

As part of my personal Hugo voting process, but also to help me train up my critical abilities again, I try to write something about all novels and stories I read. I didn't do that for the TARDIS Eruditorium volume, because I don't enjoy writing criticism of criticism anyway. For the time being, I'm doing this in the form of unstructured notes; what I like about doing it that way is that there's no expectations of insight or quality attached to that format. I am not in a place where I can spend a day to hammer out 2500 words of well-structured argument on a book, and it would be very harmful for me to even try. The notes will help me remember, at voting time, what I thought of any of the works read, and hopefully trigger some other memories as well when I go back to them.

I did spend some extra time to add some Amazon links to the paragraphs in this post, containing my old Amazon Associate codes. This was probably pointless as the blog is now much more of a personal thing I write for myself, but you never know if people do decide to purchase, and if they do, that would give me some extra disposable income to buy more books. I would hope, though, that these posts help cause more books being sold! If you read this and want to buy one of the books discussed above, please feel free to ignore the Amazon links and instead support your local book store. My current home town of Hoogezand-Sappemeer (NL) has no real bookstores left. I did some of my shopping in Groningen and was appalled to find out that both major stores selling new books in the center were now part of the same regional chain, offering roughly the same selection of books. I expect they will consolidate to a single location in the center soon as well. For comparison, Hoogezand-Sappemeer, pop. 30,000, still has a good record store and Groningen, pop. 200,000, supports half a dozen record stores.

Or get the electronic editions! That's what I did for several of these.

I was going to spend the evening drawing…

October 29th, 2008 by Reinder

... but Terry Pratchett's Nation happened to me. Damn you, Terry Pratchett! Damn you to hell!

Seriously, after the disappointment that was Making Money and the news of his being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, it's a big relief to see that he still has a book this good in him. The book does go off the rails a bit towards the end, with the "Island-of-Science" dénouement never quite gelling. Naturally, all the old Pratchett themes are there in spades: the Plato's Cave references, the never-resolved ponderings on religion and atheism, the naive protagonists in a culture clash, and so on. It's a good execution of the formula, benefitting from not being Yet Another Discworld Novel, but it's formulaic nonetheless.

Pop-sci meme: what books have you read?

August 29th, 2008 by Reinder

Via PZ "I bought you a sacred host but I trasheded it" Myers comes this book meme: from the list of popular science books below, highlight which ones you've read. It's making me feel like an ignoramus; even with the expanded list suggested by PZ, I don't get very far at all:

1. Micrographia, Robert Hooke
2. The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin
3. Never at Rest, Richard Westfall
4. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
5. Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney
6. The Devil's Doctor, Philip Ball
7. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes
8. Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, Dennis Overbye
9. Physics for Entertainment, Yakov Perelman
10. 1-2-3 Infinity, George Gamow
11. The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
12. Warmth Disperses, Time Passes, Hans Christian von Bayer
13. Alice in Quantumland, Robert Gilmore
14. Where Does the Weirdness Go? David Lindley
15. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
16. A Force of Nature, Richard Rhodes
17. Black Holes and Time Warps, Kip Thorne
18. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
19. Universal Foam, Sidney Perkowitz
20. Vermeer's Camera, Philip Steadman
21. The Code Book, Simon Singh
22. The Elements of Murder, John Emsley
23. Soul Made Flesh, Carl Zimmer
24. Time's Arrow, Martin Amis
25. The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, George Johnson
26. Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman
27. Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter
28. The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, Lisa Jardine
29. A Matter of Degrees, Gino Segre
30. The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence Krauss
31. E=mc2, David Bodanis
32. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, Charles Seife
33. Absolute Zero: The Conquest of Cold, Tom Shachtman
34. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, Janna Levin
35. Warped Passages, Lisa Randall
36. Apollo's Fire, Michael Sims
37. Flatland, Edward Abbott
38. Fermat's Last Theorem, Amir Aczel
39. Stiff, Mary Roach
40. Astroturf, M.G. Lord
41. The Periodic Table, Primo Levi
42. Longitude, Dava Sobel
43. The First Three Minutes, Steven Weinberg
44. The Mummy Congress, Heather Pringle
45. The Accelerating Universe, Mario Livio
46. Math and the Mona Lisa, Bulent Atalay
47. This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin
48. The Executioner's Current, Richard Moran
49. Krakatoa, Simon Winchester
50. Pythagorus' Trousers, Margaret Wertheim
51. Neuromancer, William Gibson
52. The Physics of Superheroes, James Kakalios
53. The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump, Sandra Hempel
54. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Katrina Firlik
55. Einstein's Clocks and Poincare's Maps, Peter Galison
56. The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan
57. The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins
58. The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
59. An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
60. Consilience, E.O. Wilson
61. Wonderful Life, Stephen J. Gould
62. Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard
63. Fire in the Brain, Ronald K. Siegel
64. The Life of a Cell, Lewis Thomas
65. Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris
66. Storm World, Chris Mooney
67. The Carbon Age, Eric Roston
68. The Black Hole Wars, Leonard Susskind
69. Copenhagen, Michael Frayn
70. From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne
71. Gut Symmetries, Jeanette Winterson
72. Chaos, James Gleick
73. Innumeracy, John Allen Paulos
74. The Physics of NASCAR, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky
75. Subtle is the Lord, Abraham Pais

76. Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski
77. Basin and Range, John McPhee
78. Beak of the Finch, Jonathan Weiner
79. Chance and Necessity, Jacques Monod
80. Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, Olivia Judson
81. Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Sean Carroll
82. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, Carl Zimmer
83. Genome, Matt Ridley
84. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
85. It Ain't Necessarily So, Richard Lewontin
86. On Growth and Form, D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson
87. Phantoms in the Brain, VS Ramachandran
88. The Ancestor's Tale, Richard Dawkins
89. The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution, Elisabeth Lloyd
90. The Eighth Day of Creation, Horace Freeland Judson
91. The Great Devonian Controversy, Martin Rudwick
92. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Oliver Sacks
93. The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould
94. The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment, Richard Lewontin
95. Time, Love, Memory, Jonathan Weiner
96. Voyaging and The Power of Place, Janet Browne
97. Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angier

I have read several of the books suggested in the comment thread, though, including Steve Jones' Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated and several other Dawkins books. Still, this makes me feel like I should work harder on this reading thing.

Michael Pollan, my time sink of the past 24 hours.

August 24th, 2008 by Reinder

I've spent far too much time in thepast day reading the website of journalist Michael Pollan, writer of In Defense of Food and a range of books, essays and journalism about the food (mostly) Americans eat. I particularly recommend his piece on Animal rights, which despite the obnoxious provocation at the top is one of the best-written pieces on the issue I've read.

I've added In Defense of Food to my Amazon Wish List in case any of my readers here want to give me something nice for my birthday on Sep. 14. Pollan's website has the introduction online for free.