John Scalzi reminds me we are all short timers

OzymandiasJohn Scalzi wrote an “excellent essay today on the impermanence of art”:http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/01/30/a-small-meditation-on-art-commerce-and-impermanence — none of us know the top 10 books of 100 years ago, or even the authors of the books.

I’m betting the same dynamic holds true in popular music, or in almost every other area of human endeavor. Certainly holds true in software, with obviously even faster aging out.

Enjoy what you are doing today, work with people you like today, help make people’s lives better today, because in the long run, our efforts are largely immaterial.

You could view this as depressing but I view it as wonderfully freeing — don’t worry about making mistakes or heading down the wrong path or looking the fool, in the long run it really doesn’t matter, so take some chances today and try to make a difference now in someone’s life.

B&N, I expect more than this

On a table labelled “Noteworthy Fiction” at the downtown Seattle Barnes & Noble I find the following 3 books along with about 20 others:

* “Halo Glasslands”:amazon by Karen Traviss. Based on the hit XBox game, the 8th in the series.
* “Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Dominion”:amazon by Eric Van Lustbader. Not a new Bourne novel by the (deceased) Robert Ludlum but something contracted by his estate.
* “The Sixth Man”:amazon by David Baldacci. Baldacci.

These may be incredibly entertaining books, I have no idea (tho based on Amazon reviews I am pretty sure I would hate “Halo Glasslands”). I’m not a book snob. I read tons of escapist fare, I love the Jack Reacher novels, I like Harlan Coben, I read science fiction voraciously, I enjoy YA fiction and graphic novels (or “comic books” as I still call them). I read some highbrow stuff too but I enjoy popular fiction. I’ve read every original Ludlum work, I’ve played Halo, I might even be the target audience for these books.

However, I would never call a Reacher novel “noteworthy”. No one is going to be discussing Lee Child novels 100 years from now in a literature class. I expect something of import on a table labelled “noteworthy”. The latest from a Nobel winner. Man-Booker nominees. Pulitzer Prize winners and nominees. Edgar Award winners. Maybe a Hugo or Nebula award winner. Works that will surprise and challenge me.

B&N has plenty of room, they can have plenty of other tables with bestsellers and hot books and the best beach reads and books for long airplane rides and books for Stephen King fans and movie tie-in books and all the other kinds of books that may sell well and may be entertaining. But dammit, can’t they have a table that shows some thought in its selections, that appeals to people who buy and read a lot of books?

This is (one reason) why retail bookstores are in trouble. There is nothing thoughtful or special about the in-store experience. B&N has taken away book space and given it to Nook displays, calendar displays, DVD sales (really? who pays these prices for DVDs?), in-store cafes, etc etc. They’ve invested nothing as far as I can tell in merchandising and selling books. I buy 100s of physical and ebooks during a year, but I left B&N empty-handed. If B&N can’t get me to buy a book each time I am in their store, they are screwing up, my bar just isn’t that high.

January Books (so far) — Timeless Way, Ventus, Thurber, Last Lecture

A little all over the place so far this month:

* “The Timeless Way of Building”:amazon by Christopher Alexander. Good discussion of a classic design methodology, applies to software as well as architecture. Not a scalable scheme at all — the author argues for intensive customization with great involvement from the intended users — but still important for some classes of projects, and most importantly, talks about the need to really inject character and soul into design, which is important for all projects.
* “Ventus”:amazon by Karl Schroeder. Classic coming of age myth, with a little high fantasy, nanotechnology, and space opera thrown in. Quite engaging.
* “My Life and Hard Times”:amazon by James Thurber. I read this years ago, and it ages well, Thurber was a fine writer. He was a contemporary of my grandfather’s at OSU I believe, so I feel a little personally attached to Thurber and his tales.
* “The Last Lecture”:amazon by Randy Pausch. I had watched part of the lecture some time ago, but finally got to the book, a gift from some nice folks at CMU. If you read only one biographical book this year about a tech industry figure dealing with pancreatic cancer, this is the one to read — a great message by a very thoughtful man.

I read all these in paper versions as I am trying to dig thru the pile of paper on the nightstand. This paper stuff seems so antiquated compared to the Kindle.

December Books — Blacksnake, Not So Smart, BossyPants, Shangri-La

* “Blacksnake’s Path”:amazon by William Heath. Heath could have written a dry history of the settling of the Northwest Territories and the conflicts between the settlers and the Native Americans. But instead he wrote a fictionalized story of a frontiersman, William Wells, and his life on both sides of the conflicts. Interesting, particularly for those of us from that part of the US. 5 stars on amazon (tho thinly reviewed), 3.88 on goodreads, I’ll give it a 4.
* “You Are Not So Smart”:amazon by David McRaney. A great set of essays on our psychological failings — how we make emotional decisions and rationalize them away, how susceptible we are to marketing tricks, how terrible we are at calculating probabilities, and so on. Very informative. 4.5 stars on amazon, 3.97 on goodreads, definitely a 4 star read.
* “Bossypants”:amazon by Tina Fey. Ok but not worth all the gushing accolades. Yes we all like Tina Fey but this is nothing special. 3 stars from me, versus 4 on Amazon and Goodreads.
* “Lost in Shangri-La”:amazon by Mitchell Zuckoff. WWII plane crash in New Guinea amongst stone age tribes. Excellent telling of the story. 4 stars on amazon, 3.75 on Goodreads, 4 for me.

November books — finally got to Larsson. Also: Barnes, Child, French, Greaney, Ness, Stross

* “The Sense of an Ending”:amazon by Julian Barnes. Late in life, a man is confronted with relationships and events from early in his life, and tries to make sense of them, struggling with his faulty interpretation of events. At my age, I find this story resonates with me. Amazon at 4 stars, “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10746542-the-sense-of-an-ending almost 4, it is a fine tale.
* “The Affair”:amazon by Lee Child. Purportedly the back story on the Reacher character — how he came to lead his life of opportunistic vengeance. Good but doesn’t really explain how Reacher’s personality evolved — he is pretty quick to violence in this first book, how did he get that way? Amazon and “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10428708-the-affair both at 4 stars, just a 3 for me.
* “In The Woods”:amazon by Tana French. A detective, damaged by an unsolved tragedy in his childhood, investigates a murder in his childhood neighborhood, and the unresolved issues of his youth overwhelm him. Nice. Amazon only gives 3 stars, “Goodreads 3.6”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/237209.In_the_Woods, there are large divergences in the reviews. I tend to be more towards 4 stars.
* “The Knife of Never Letting Go”:amazon by Patrick Ness. YA science fiction about an off-earth colony struggling with a native disease with unusual effects. Interesting premise but the main character is unappealing. Amazon and “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2118745.The_Knife_of_Never_Letting_Go give this about 4 stars, I’m just a 3 star.
* “The Gray Man”:amazon by Mark Greaney. A super assassin. Kind of fun. 4 stars on Amazon, “3.96 on goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6547865-the-gray-man, that all seems a little over the top, but it is a solid book.
* “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”:amazon, “The Girl Who Played With Fire”:amazon, “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”:amazon by Stieg Larsson. The upcoming movie finally motivated me to read these — I had delayed for a long time, fearing that their Da Vinci Code-like popularity. But the first book was awesome, contrasting two highly moral characters, one pursuing truth, one pursuing justice. The second book was ok but the super-human nemesis was a bit trite. The third was again great but in a different way — the interplay of media, criminals, victims, police, government agencies, and the good and bad players in each of these organizations made for compelling reading. Worth the buzz. 4+ stars for the first and third.
* “Rule 34”:amazon by Charles Stross. Eh. A near future with commerce, internet, spam, fabrication all run rampant. Interesting trends but characters are dead dull. Giving up at halfway point. Amazon says 4 stars, “Goodreads says 3.74”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8853299-rule-34, but this is just a 2 star for me.

Recent Books

* “Hitler’s Empire”:amazon by Mark Mazower. Very thorough history of how the Nazis ran Germany and the conquered territories during WWII. I expected the genocidal lunacy, but the amount of corruption, infighting, and mismanagement was new to me. Denser than I really wanted but thorough. Amazon gives 4.5 stars and it is a good book but probably more info than most want.
* “Steve Jobs”:amazon by Walter Isaacson. Good coverage of his life. Not deep but entertaining. Humanizes him. Would have loved to have greater depth on some of the older material but still enjoyed. Amazon says 4 stars, that seems fine.
* “The Candlemass Road”:amazon by George MacDonald Fraser. Period piece set on the Anglo-Scottish border. Written in a strong period voice, fun. Amazon says 4.5 stars, I might hold at 3.5 or 4, but a good read.

Recent nonfiction — Lithium, Jetpacks, Space Station, Revolutionary War, Spintronics

“Out of Orbit” and “Unlikely Allies” are the stars of the group.

* “Bottled lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy”:amazon by Seth Fletcher. Decent nontechnical book about the lithium battery and lithium production. Entertaining intro to the topic. Amazon gives it 4 stars, I’d say 3.5, would have liked a little more technical depth.
* “Where’s My Jetpack”:amazon by Daniel H. Wilson. Short essays on the Jetpack, moving sidewalks, and other promised tech from sci fi. Kind of bland. Amazon says 4 stars but I’d say 2. Maybe if I didn’t already read a lot of scientific literature and science fiction, I’d like this. But I suspect all the readers of this book have a science/science fiction bent.
* “Out of Orbit”:amazon by Chris Jones. Terrific true story about shuttle/international space station astronauts. Really digs into the emotional side of their trips, the highs of space travel, the lows of dealing with isolation and with the loss of colleagues in the shuttle disasters. Very compelling. Amazon says 4 stars, at least that.
* “Unlikely Allies”:amazon by Joel Richard Paul. The story of an American and two Frenchmen during the Revolutionary War, and their involvement in securing the support of France — both diplomatic and material support. Fascinating look at a facet of the war that I knew little about. Amazon says 4.5 stars, I’m good with that.
* “Introduction to Spintronics”:amazon by Supriyo Bandyopadhyay, Marc Cahay. This book is a good introduction if you already have a solid technical foundation in quantum mechanics at the graduate level — be prepared for a lot of math. If you want a nontechnical intro to spintronics, look elsewhere. Amazon says 5 stars but that is based on a single review. It is a very solid book though.

Recent Books — Ready Player One, Map of Time, Marooned in Realtime, Hex

A bunch of ferry line reading:

* “Ready Player One”:amazon by Ernest Cline. The first quarter was awful as the author has the characters painfully explain his world to us. After that a fun romp. But ultimately forgettable. Amazon says 4.5 stars, that is a little crazy, 2 stars in my book
* “The Map of Time”:amazon by Felix J. Palma. H. G. Wells muses on time travel, and his novel “The Time Traveller” creates a furor of public interest. Wells finds himself drawn into several fraudulent time travel scams, though one of the scams has a noble romantic goal. Actual time travelers arrive on the scene, some with good intent and some with criminal intent, to further complicate the story. The threads are all nicely tied together. Amazon says 3.4 stars, I’d go 4 stars.
* “Marooned in Realtime”:amazon by Vernor Vinge. Not sure how I missed this one, very nice tale of conspiracy and far future society. Amazon says 4.5 stars, I’d say 4.
* “Hex”:amazon by Allen Steele. Bad science fiction. Terrible characters, ridiculous plot devices. The only vaguely entertaining part is the discussion of a Dyson sphere, but go read “Rendezvous with Rama”:amazon or “Ringworld”:amazon if you like thinking about aliens and massive engineering feats. Amazon says 4 stars, this is a 1 star book.

Books — Stocking up on Cynicism

So here at the end of summer, sure it is a beautiful day today, but you know that is only masking the deep corruption all around us. Winter is coming, time to buckle up.

* “Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church”:amazon by Jason Berry. I’m not a Catholic but love the idea of peeking inside this institution. Corruption, internal schisms, pedophiles, coverups, and more seem to abound within the church — the lack of transparency and the lack of justice within church procedures is notable. But I gave up on the book. A) the author clearly has an axe to grind and there is no balance, I am sure there are great people within the church who do a lot of good, and who fight the corruption, but you wouldn’t know it by this book. B) the narrative wanders and stumbles and ultimately bores, the author loses track of the point he is trying to make. Amazon says 4.5 stars, “Goodreads says 3”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10000761-render-unto-rome, I am 2 stars at most. Maybe if I was Catholic I would find this more fascinating.

* “White Coat, Black Hat”:amazon by Carl Elliott. A very well written anecdotal examination of the money swirling through the healthcare system, largely coming from big pharma. MDs, researchers, research institutions, oversight boards, test subjects, media companies, PR/advertising firms, even bioethicists — they all have all four feet and their snout in the trough of big pharma, no one is unbiased. Depressing. Trust no one. Amazon says 4.5 stars, “Goodreads says 3.6”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8355649-white-coat-black-hat, this is a very good book, 4.5 stars from me. Nothing prescriptive in the book, just a book to get you pissed off.
* Not pissed off enough? Try “Griftopia”:amazon by Mat Taibbi. A vicious look at the mortgage/financial meltdown of the last several years, and just how the major financial firms manipulated society and government to screw all of us. Not a balanced work at all, the author is in full attack mode. This sometimes detracts from the tale — calling Greenspan names, page after page, is wearing and a little sophomoric — but there is enough meat here to get you really pissed off. I’m putting all our money in chests and burying it, that is the only way to keep it away from the greedy crooks out there. “Goodreads says 4.25 stars”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7897556-griftopia, Amazon says 4.5, this is super entertaining, I’d give it a 4.5.
* “How Judges Think”:amazon by Richard A. Posner. Only part way through and may give up. I foolishly thought that this book would tell me how judges think. And thus would be a lot of interview-driven, anecdotal stories. However it is a very theoretical discussion of models of how judges behave, and a discussion of what might cause these motivations, written by a judge. All I really get out of this is how one federal judge, the author, thinks. And he seems to be good at splitting fine hairs (not surprising), and that judges are a bit self-important. So I leave modestly frustrated, not really enlightened, and only modestly more cynical about judges. Amazon gives 4.5 stars, “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2836459-how-judges-think 3.64, I’d have to say a 3.

Books — Robopocalypse, Wild Cards, Leviathan Wakes, NPR list

* “Robopocalypse”:amazon by Daniel Wilson. Zombie robots rise up and attack humanity. Ok but many better zombie apocalypse books out there.
* “Wild Cards I”:amazon, Ed. George R. R. Martin. Noir-ish x-men, with the significant inclusion of all the unfortunate people with less-than-useful mutations — uncontrollable sliming, terrible disfigurements, lethal mutations. Obbviously a lot like it, since a jillion more books have followed. Just ok.
* “Leviathan Wakes”:amazon by James S. A. Corey. Solar-system-spanning conspiracies and war, fun stuff. No terribly new frontiers but quality space opera.

Oh and here is “NPR’s list”:http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/139248590/top-100-science-fiction-fantasy-books of the top 100 SF/Fantasy books or series. Can’t agree with it all but a not unreasonable reading list.

Recent books — Reacher, Van Eekhout, Deadline, Sandford, Dance with Dragons, 7th Sigma

* “Worth Dying For”:amazon by Lee Childs. Latest Reacher tale, he is in fine form cleaning up a Nebraska county. Like most Reacher fans, I am unenthused with “Cruise as Reacher”:http://screenrant.com/tom-cruise-jack-reacher-one-shot-sandy-123854/ but glad that the books are getting to the screen. 4 stars on Amazon. “3.93 on Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8357992-worth-dying-for, this is a good Reacher tale.
* “The Boy at the End of the World”:amazon by Greg Van Eekhout. Good tale of a lone boy in a post-apocalyptic world. A very quick read, a young-adult title. 4.5 stars on Amazon, “4.35 on Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9580832-the-boy-at-the-end-of-the-world, those are some high marks. I might not go quite that far but it is a solid book.
* “Deadline”:amazon by Mira Grant. Not quite the emotional kick of the first in the series about post-zombie-apocalypse America, but still quite good as the conspiracy deepens. Looking forward very much to the final book. “4.36 stars on Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8429687-deadline, 4.5 on Amazon, this is quite a good series.
* “Buried Prey”:amazon by John Sandford. Nth in a series about a Minneapolis detective. Nicely done, the relationships between police and press are distinctive. I’d read more in the series. 4.5 stars on Amazon, “4.08 on Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9440448-buried-prey, clearly a good series.
* “A Dance With Dragons”:amazon by George R R Martin. This book has generated lots of complaining about its perceived failure to advance main plot lines, and expansion of character set. I prefer to embrace the messiness and incompleteness of the author’s world. This series is not going to be tied up neatly with a bow, there is no happy reunion party in the Shire awaiting us. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and await the next with great anticipation. And looking forward to season 2 on HBO! “4.18 stars on Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2782553-a-dance-with-dragons, just 3 on Amazon, I am a 4-star.
* “7th Sigma”:amazon by Steven Gould. A retelling of Kim in a near future American Southwest ravaged by rogue nanotechnology. Fun tho characterization is pretty thin. “3.36 on goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10136180-7th-sigma, 4.5 stars on Amazon (tho very thinly reviewed).

Reading the Hugo nominees

I’ve plowed thru much of the Hugo nominees in the last couple weeks, thanks to the great deal to get them all in ebook form.

* Novels: “Cryoburn”:amazon by Lois M. Bujold. At first I thought, well, this story has been written before. But ended up feeling like very compelling. “Blackout”:amazon by Connie Willis. Eh. Gave up. Vaguely ridiculous plotting. “Feed”:amazon by Mira Grant. Read this earlier in the year, it is a great tide. My vote. Still two more to read tho.

* Novellas: The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang. Interesting speculation on the maturation of artificially intelligent programs, a little mechanistic but interesting. The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky. A nearly immortal sorceress thru the ages, good but not great.
The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon by Elizabeth Hand. Fanciful, touching, not really my taste. Troika by Alistair Reynolds. Russians exploring a uniquely russian alien spacecraft, yawn. The Sultan of the Clouds by Geoffrey A. Landis. Very nice tale of a far future Venus, where the atmosphere is settled by humans. I like the Landis tale.

* Novelette: Eight Miles by Sean McMullen. Steampunk, an exiled martian and balloonist partner up. The Emperor of Mars by Allen M. Steele. A touching story of a Mars colonist dealing with incredible grief. The jaguar House in Shadow by Aliette de Bodard. Intrigue in a modern day Aztec empire. Nice atmosphere, would love to read more. That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made by Eric James Stone. A Mormon missionary in the sun, reaching out to plasma beings — original.
Plus or minus by James Patrick Kelly. Disaster strikes a cargo hauler on way from asteroids, some quality characters. Both the de Bodard and Stone stories are memorable.

* Short Stories: Amaryllis by Carrie Vaughn. Life on a resource-constrained world. Lots of characterization in a short story, could certainly support a longer tale. Ponies by Kij Johnson. Wow, super nasty dark story about kids and cliques. The Things by Peter Watts. The thing, told from its perspective — Nicely done. I really like the Watts story

Recent Books — Siberia, the Yukon, India; Hadoop; Hunger Games

3 books about frontiers:

* “Travels in Siberia”:amazon by Ian Frazier. The author wanders thru Siberia over the course of a decade. Interesting as a travelogue covering some very rough territory. Interesting in it’s explanation of the role Siberia has had for the Russian nation — untameable unending frontier, prison, safehouse in times of war, source of great natural wealth — and the ambivalent effect on the nation’s psyche. I would have liked a little more character study of the people met on the road, but a good read. 4 stars on Amazon, 3.91 on “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7966160-travels-in-siberia, I’d give it 3.5.
* “The Floor of Heaven”:amazon by Howard Blum. The intersecting tales 3 men and the Yukon gold rush. Contrast the frontier spirit of the American/Canadian west — boundless opportunity and optimism — with the Siberian spirit in the first book. 3.9 stars on “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9581463-the-floor-of-heaven, 4.5 on amazon, I like this a little better than the Siberia book as the characters have much greater depth.
* “India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking”:amazon by Anand Giridharadas. An Indian-American returns to India to understand his and his family’s past, and to participate in the economic growth of the country. Interesting for its explanation of the nature of the family in Indian culture, and how that is changing with economic growth. 4 stars on Amazon, 3.58 on “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9706504-india-calling, it was a fine read, I’d give it 3.5.

A technical read:

* “Hadoop: The Definitive Guide”:amazon by Tom White. Kind of a maintenance guide for Hadoop and tools. Not the best intro to the technology, but useful at a certain level. Different editions get 3-4 stars on Amazon, “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6308439-hadoop gives it 3.75, I’d say 3 stars at best.

And then escapism:

* “The Hunger Games”:amazon, “Catching Fire”:amazon, “MockingJay”:amazon by Suzanne Collins. Avoided this series but all the movie talk finally sucked me in. Fun. The first especially. While targeted at young readers, the ending is not simplistic at all. Generally get 4.5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads, I would certainly agree. I am excited for the movie(s) now…

Hugo Awards nominees in ebook form

“John Scalzi”:http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/05/24/the-2011-hugo-voters-packet-now-live/ points out that you can join the World Science Fiction convention for $50 and get electronic versions of all the Hugo nominated works. Amazing deal.

Recent Books — Sawyer, Yu, Scalzi, Crummery, Bear, Lovesey

Another batch of largely escapist fare:

* “Hominids”:amazon by Robert J. Sawyer. A many-worlds story, featuring an Earth dominated by civilized Neanderthals. Engaging but not much new here. Amazon says 3.5 stars, “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/264946.Hominids says 3.7. There are two more in the series but I won’t chase them down, I’d give this a 3.
* “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe”:amazon by Charles Yu. What if time travel was mundane and cheap, if everyone did it, if we screwed up our time traveling lives just like we do the rest of our lives? Nicely executed. Amazon says 3.5 stars, “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7726420-how-to-live-safely-in-a-science-fictional-universe says 3.3, but I enjoyed the exploration of cheap, available, screwed-up time travel. 4 stars.
* “Fuzzy Nation”:amazon by John Scalzi. 4 stars at Amazon, 4.25 at “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9647532-fuzzy-nation. Entertaining tale. Avatar meets John Grisham. Scalzi writes very comfortably. I’ll say 3.5 stars — entertaining but not memorable.
* “Galore”:amazon by Michael Crummey. Tried to go highbrow with this trendy pick but just boring. Tries to make ensemble of intriguing characters but not enough focus on any one character to make me care. And this story is all about characters. Amazon says 4.5 stars, “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9647532-fuzzy-nation says 4.25, but I gave up on it. 1 star.
* “Hull Zero Three”:amazon by Greg Bear. A long trip to the stars in a generation ship goes very bad. Imagine “Lord of the Flies” with all kinds of advanced biotech. Amazon says just 3 stars, “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7975415-hull-zero-three says 3.2. 3 seems about right.
* “The Last Detective”:amazon by Peter Lovesey. My second Lovesey, another very good English detective tale. Very human characters all around. 4 stars on amazon, 3.75 on “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/815595. I’d say 4, I found it all to be quite touching for a detective tale.

Recent books — Scalzi, Lovesey, Perry, McDevitt

A handful of escapist fare…

* “The God Engines”:amazon by John Scalzi. Vicious little tale of a civilization and the creatures they revere as gods. Amazon says 3.5 stars, “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6470498-the-god-engines says 3.6. It is an interesting idea but not deeply developed, I’d say 3.5.
* “Skeleton Hill”:amazon by Peter Lovesey. A fine English countryside mystery. Horses, cemeteries, gardens, countryside, civil war reenactments. A humble insightful hardworking detective, prideful upper class protagonists. A good example of the form. “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6445698-skeleton-hill says 3.63, Amazon says 4.5 stars, I’d give it 4.
* “Strip”:amazon by Thomas Perry. Modern LA noir. Ok, showed more promise at beginning, but then lost some verve as the tale hopped around the ensemble cast. Would have been stronger to focus on one character, say the detective. Amazon says 3.5 stars, “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7024516-strip says 3.44, I’d say 3.
* “Echo”:amazon by Jack McDevitt. Not his strongest effort. People running around the arm of the galaxy for just a modest payoff. If you are really committed to McDevitt then it is a fine story but if not, well. Amazon says 4 stars, “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8400986-echo says 3.68, I’d have to say 3 tops.

Recent Books — Gone-Away World, Half-Made World, InterWorld, Underworld, The Word for the World is Forest

WIth hundreds of paper and ebooks in my reading queue, I need themes to decide what to read next. Why not books with “world” in the title? Presumably they all have some reasonable degree of ambition.

* “The Gone-Away World”:amazon by Nick Harkaway. Post-apocalyptic story of a world fantastically scrambled by some kind of quantum/entropy bomb. Engaging. 4 stars on Amazon, 4.14 on “goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3007704-the-gone-away-world, it is a solid 4.
* “The Half-Made World”:amazon by Felix Gilman. A strange world of western expansion and industrial development gone awry. The archetypes of the Wild West and the Industrial Revolution walk the earth, driven by demons, fighting for dominance, against a never-ending western frontier. Even more engaging. 3/78 on “goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8198773-the-half-made-world, 4 stars on Amazon, also a 4 here.
* “InterWorld”:amazon by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. Nice YA science fiction title with all the classic memes. Reminds me of the titles I got hooked on — early asimov, heinlein, etc. 3.46 on “goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/47701.Interworld, 4 stars on Amazon, I’ll give it 3.5.
* “Underworld”:amazon by Don DeLillo. A more literary book than these others, written in a purposefully disjointed style that probably reflects true stream-of-consciousness of people. But I didn’t care about the characters and the plot didn’t advance well. Gave up 25% of way through. Amazon says 3.5 stars, “goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11761.Underworld 3.9, i can’t give it more than 2 stars.
* “The Word for the World is Forest”:amazon by Ursula K. Le Guin. The story of Avatar, but subtler, more understated. and written some 30 years before Avatar. “Goodreads”:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7672380-the-word-for-world-is-forest says 3.75 stars, amazon says 4.5 stars. It is a solid 3.5 but the author has of course written much better since then.

Recent books — Cleopatra, Dagmar, Cowboy Angels, Vandermeer

* “Cleopatra: A Life”: amazon by Stacy Schiff. Bio of Cleopatra, with a sympathetic eye. A little long but she lived a fascinating life. 3.5 stars on amazon, 3.56 on Goodreads. I’d say 2.5, just drags on a little too much.

* “Deep State”:amazon by Walter Jon Williams. Terrible. No character or setting depth. Plot choppy. At one point I searched for author’s name on Internet, I assumed he had died and someone finished the book from his notes. The first book with the Dagmar character was good, but this is not. Amazon says 4.5 stars, Goodreads says 3.5, I do not get it.

* “Cowboy Angels”:amazon by Paul McAuley. Many-worlds conspiracy tale, reasonably engaging. Amazon says 3.5 stars, Goodreads says 3.3, OK this book is not going to win prizes, but it was engaging and way better than the book above.

* “City of Saints and Madmen”:amazon by Jeff Vandermeer. Hey I learned the word “farctated” from this book which makes it a 5 star book just on that basis. This is a very odd and compelling fantasy tale set in a very strange city. I love books that play with structure, this was awesome. And the author made his invented taxonomy of freshwater squid a compelling read — that is an achievement. 5 stars. Amazon says 4.5 stars, Goodreads says 4.