Recent Books — Corsair, Morte d’Urban, Fluent Python

  • Morte d’Urban by J. F. Powers. fp This is a slog. I am 50% of the way thru and promised comic masterpiece has yet to really appear.
  • Fluent Python by Luciano Ramalho. Bob recommended this book, and it is good, explains not just how to write good python code, but much insight into the internals of python which helps explain why you should do certain things in certain ways. I wish every programming language had a text this good.
  • Corsair by James L. Cambias. The story and characters are so-so, but the exploration of some of the societal, industrial, and defense implications of lunar mining was interesting, with the growth of private space exploitation companies we are likely to need to deal with some of these issues.

Re the last book, I’ve been reflecting on science fiction as a genre. In recent weeks I’ve been feeling bad about the genre as writer after writer dismisses it in the NY Times — Daniel Silva, Terry McMillan, Jeffrey Toobin. One can argue that I shouldn’t care about these opinions, but still. One aspect I think these writers miss is the ability of speculative fiction to explore the societal impacts of technology, as I note in the book above, and I find this to be valuable and interesting.

I was also feeling a little annoyed at these writers for their blanket dismissal of a genre, that didn’t seem very clever to me. I was happy to read Alan Moore this week, who just nails the key point that genre doesn’t have to be limiting at all:

I’m happiest when I’m outside it altogether, or perhaps more accurately, when I can conjure multiple genres all at once, in accordance with my theory (now available, I believe, as a greeting card and fridge magnet) that human life as we experience it is a simultaneous multiplicity of genres. I put it much more elegantly on the magnet. With that said, of course, there are considerable pleasures to be found in genre, foremost among which is that of either violating or transcending it, assuming there’s a difference, and using it to talk about something else entirely. Some subversions, paradoxically, can even seem to reinvigorate the stale conventions that they’d set out to subvert or satirize.

Every genre has bad writing, and bad genre writing is bad. I am going to dedicate myself to reading good genre reading, and especially writing that pushes the boundaries of the genre.

Recent Books

cover image
Dead Wake
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. From last year’s Nebula list, a great tale of court entrigue.
  • The Ocean at The End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman. A pretty quick read, very entrancing. Worth the accolades.
  • Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. Also from last year’s Nebula list, a galaxy-spanning human empire starts to crumble from the inside.
  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Good but a big of a slog.
  • Dead Wake by Erik Larson. A great telling of the last days of the Lusitania. Immediately bought another Larson, this was great.
  • City of Bohane by Kevin Barry. A strange tale of near future Ireland. Men are fools.
  • The Child Who by Simon Lelic. A lawyer nobly tries to defend a young murder suspect and finds his own life torn apart. Don’t try experiments on your family.

Recent Books — Sawyer, Rich, Hough, Rendell, Lakhous


  • Red Planet Blues by Robert Sawyer. Noirish mystery on Mars. Fun and engaging. I hope Mars is this cool when we eventually settle it.
  • Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich. I don’t enjoy reading farce, and this was drifting that way, but then the author made the characters very human despite being in the midst of a terrible tragedy. Surprised me in a good way.
  • The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough. A set of mysterious alien artifacts show up on Earth and shit breaks loose. A fun ride. The following two volumes — Exodus Towers, Plague Forge — lose a little of the energy, the author wasn’t able to maintain the alien mystery, but still a fun set.
  • The St Zita Society by Ruth Rendell. Rendell is a great author, and this book is well regarded, but it just didn’t grab me, I gave up quite quickly. A rush of characters early that I didn’t care about.
  • Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet by Amara Lakhous. This was a very engaging tale about corruption and bigotry in modern day Italy. Great main character, I’m left wanting more.

Recent Books — OpenGL, McKillip, Film Grammar, Beatles, Lexicon, Coben, Annihilation, and more

  • OpenGL Programming Guide by Shreiner, Sellers, Kessenich, Licea-Kane. Incredibly boring in a good way. Very useful depth walkthru of OpenGL.
  • Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson. Boring in a bad way, unreadable. The author attempts to wrap his nonfiction treatise with some thin and dull characters who lead boring lives. Gave up on.
  • Riddle-Master by Patricia A McKillip. Fun semi-classic fantasy romp. Nicely wraps up in a modest number of pages unlike the modern commercial 10+ tome series.
  • Grammar of the Film Language by Daniel Arijon. Great reference on a topic I was clueless about, hat tip to Paul. A little dated but super useful.
  • Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald. Another excellent history of the Beatles, focusing on their songs and what was going on in the culture and the group at the time. MacDonald takes a very critical look at the songs at times, which makes the discussion all that much more compelling.
  • Lexicon by Max Barry. Fun adventure with very erudite zombies.
  • Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke. Uber-creepy story of a woman in the grips of a possible breakdown, or is something else going on?
  • Missing You by Harlan Coben. Another solid Coben, started out a little slow, but grabbed by the end.
  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. At first I thought this was going to be yet another post-apocalyptic dystopian series written to sell books, but this is something quite different. An expedition enters a blighted area in the south, and nothing is what it seems — the nature of the blight, the goals of the expedition, the members of the expedition all have hidden natures. I’ve pre-ordered the next book.
  • Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff. A man unravels the life of his father — a conman, liar, thief, but still a loving father. Complex relationship.

Recent Books — Parasite, Ice Harvest, Crace, Fowler, Mr Peanut, Byatt, Auchincloss

  • Parasite by Mira Grant. The start of a new series by the author of the Feed series, which I found to be among the best of the zombie novels I read. This is also a lot of fun, a twist on zombies, in some way much creepier. Looking forward to rest of series.
  • The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips. A Fargo-esque spiral of crime and misdeeds. Fun.
  • Harvest by Jim Crace. Crace does not write happy tales. This story details the collapse of an insular farming village in the face of political and economic change, and how one man in the village experiences the changes. Kind of grabbed me tho it is a mostly depressing little tale.
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Gripping. A woman tells the story of the unusual family tragedy that occurred at age 5, and how that has rippled through her life and her family’s life. Very hard to put down, and the messages will sit with me a long time.
  • Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross. Three intertwined marriages beset by problems and power struggles, with some Hitchcockian murder built in, or maybe not, and with a mix of fiction and maybe truth. A lot going on here. And a lot of pain. Not sure how I feel about.
  • Possession by A.S. Byatt. Snore. I need to remember that Man-Booker Prize != interesting.
  • The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss. A charismatic school founder and his impact on all the lives of the people around him, both good and bad. The power and charisma of a founder/leader can lift some people up and drown others. Really excellent tale and relevant in many walks of life.

Barnes and Noble (@BNBuzz), can’t you at least try?

5 people in line waiting to pay at Barnes & Noble Bellevue vs 1 chatty cashier. 1 Nooklehead standing over at the Nook stand doing nothing while we are all trying to give the store money.

I finally called the store and asked whoever answered to come up front and help, they said they were busy with a customer. When it was finally my turn the clerk spent 1 minute on the script trying to get me to sign up for their loyalty card — not understanding that the last thing I want to do is buy more books here.

So many things wrong here. As a start, give the idle Nook dude a square reader and let him do check outs on the Nook. Giving him something to do, a chance for me to handle a Nook, and completing my transaction more speedily.

Recent Books — Burning Paradise, Submergence, Reacher, This Town, S


  • Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson. YA pre-apocalyptic alternative history. Fun premise: a somewhat-intelligent organism has pervasively and surreptitiously infected the earth’s biosphere for hidden purposes, but some humans have started to trip to the fact. So fun but characters weak.
  • Submergence by J. M. Ledgard. Moody tale about a spy and scientist submerged in their respective worlds, submerged in very different ways, trying to come out of their worlds and build a relationship. Not sure how I feel about, I think I’d have to be in just the right mood to like this book.
  • Never Go Back by Lee Child. Another great Reacher book, stronger than some, we see inside Reacher a little more as he grapples with the possibility that he is a father. We need more of this in the Reacher series.
  • This Town by Mark Leibovich. Inside look at Washington DC. The author knows it is a cesspool, and writes appropriately cynically, but it comes across even worse than he thinks. and he is pretty open about what a self-dealing cesspool it is. So, read this if you feel like stocking up on cynicism.
  • S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. Well. This book is flawed, the story wavers, it is a pain in the ass to read, there is no way to buy a convenient electronic form because of the physical complexity of the book. And those are all the reasons why I like it as well — ambiguity, confusion, excellent use of physical media, etc. If you wonder how physical books can survive the onslaught of e-books, this is a great book to read and think about.

Recent Books — Vanished Kingdoms, Testament of Mary, Prince of Risk

  • The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin. Very moving tale of the last days of Jesus, written from the viewpoint of his mother. Great capturing of the anguish of a mother losing a son in terrible fashion.
  • Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies. Thorough discussion of 17 kingdoms/empires/states that have disappeared from the world. Not Rome or Sparta, but lesser known examples, that probably all thought they would last forever. Humbling but a bit of a slog.
  • The Prince of Risk by Christopher Reich. After the prior book needed some mental floss. Reich writes a solid suspense tail. A fine distraction.

Recent Books — Smil, Candide, Wiesenthal

candideThe last set of books I read had some stinkers, perhaps not suprising given that I was surfing through popular genre fictions. Decided to raise my standards a little bit:

  • Harvesting the Biosphere by Vaclav Smil. Some random blogger recommended this book, it’s a descriptive survey of human consumption of the planet’s biological resources. Not very prescriptive, but interesting and great background data. Boy could the author use some data visualization advice tho, a few charts would go a LONG way.
  • Candide by Voltaire. What a fun book. My knowledge of mid-1700 European politics and intellectual movements is pretty thin, so thankfully the notes give a lot of context. We need a modern version of this talk written with our idiotic current government and politics as the setting.
  • The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal. This was in the house, I think one of kids had to read this at some point. Probably best read as part of a discussion group or class, the book is not that long or engaging, but the discussions could be very enlightening.

Recent Books — Stross, Dibdin, Barr, Shields, Barclay


  • Reality Hunger by David Shields. An excellent exploration of what we read, why we read, the evolving nature of the things we read and the things we write. I used to think I was a thoughtful reader, now I realize I am a rank amateur. If you read extensively, I recommend this highly — you will gain insight into what you read, and into your own motivations for reading.
  • Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross. A lot of fun. Humanity merged with electronics in a fun way — adapted for life in space, water worlds, and other extreme environments. Also a nice exploration of the cultural and economic implications of a civilization spread across the stars, but having no FTL travel. In light of my first book, I wonder why I find hard SF engaging. On a positive note, I enjoy the complex thought exercises that a good author goes through to explore the implications of a certain technology or trend — it is just good brain exercise, keeps the brain nimble, encourages you to think longterm and to question preconceptions. On the negative side, what am I trying to escape from exactly?
  • Medusa by Michael Dibdin. Very good detective tale set in Northern Italy, how did I not find Dibdin until now. Secret love and betrayal all hidden behind political intrigue. Again, tho, what am I trying to escape from? After a day of reading technical material and screwing around with open source software, these kinds of books tend to help me decompress, I think.
  • The Rope by Nevada Barr. I am not very squeamish but this book is disturbing. I am unable to finish it, the kidnapping and brutality against the main character are just too disturbing. I’ve never had a problem with horror novels because the events always have an unreal, cartoonish feel. This book seems too real. Not my cup of tea.
  • The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian. Do not reward this author/publisher who are trying to ride on the coattails of the Hunger Games. A horrible book. My dog has more depth than the characters in this book. No, make that my dog’s chew toy. Really terrible.
  • A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay. Starts out as a typical small town murder mystery: a mysterious encounter on a dark night, a murder, a long hidden family secret, corruption in the local police force and government, a PI with personal issues who works slightly outside the lines. I’ve read all this before. But the ending is not all neat and tidy, but is instead dark and emotional and painful. Nicely done. I’m not going to explore why I find a book with a sad, emotional, dark end so appealing.

Guides to mechanical movements just discovered 507 movements, what a great resource! Back in my active Halloween days, I used to spend a lot of time figuring out how to turn simple rotary motion (as available from a myriad cheap motors) into some form of erratic or lateral motion. Or lateral motion (as available from a pneumatic piston) into some other form of motion. I have the 4 volume set of Ingenious Mechanisms, which is even more excellent. But the 507 site is free!

Recent Books — McElroy, Rendell, McDonald, Savage


  • Night Soul and Other Stories by Joseph McElroy. I just don’t enjoy short stories. These seem well-written and intriguing, but the lack of plot and character development due to the strictures of the form just doesn’t work for me. Giving up.
  • Portobello by Ruth Rendell. Given the author I expected a straight up mystery but this is an odd little tale of characters along Portobello Road and their obsessions and delusions and misbehaviors. Enjoyable but not hard-hitting.
  • The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. Somehow in my trip through the science fiction canon I have missed McDonald, and that has been a mistake. A good tale of a near future Istanbul awash in nano tech. The characters and ideas were much better than the plot, the story got a little too Dan Brown-ish in parts for me, and overall there were too many moving parts. A better book is in here, focused on just 1-2 of the characters and their stories. But still, a good read.
  • Firmin by Sam Savage. I had no memory of why I bought this book, but what a quirky little tale. A hyper intelligent rat aspires to rise above his essential rat nature, with inevitable triumphs and crashing failures. Not unlike our own lives. Enjoyable.

This last book reminds me of how valuable it is to search out small publishers and see what they are emitting. Coffee House, Graywolf, etc. With the consolidation among the major publishers and the collapse of retail book selling, you can’t rely on the mainstream to bring interesting writing to you.

Recent Books — computer vision topics, Jacob de Zoet

Trying to get smarter about image processing and computer vision — kind of a random walk of books:

Also for break from tech:

  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. Liked Cloud Atlas (the book, never saw the movie), and so far really liking this. Great characters and does an excellent job of placing me into Japan in the year ~1700.

Recent Books — Afterwards, Rankin, Zourodi, Beautiful Forevers, Rule of Law, Skippy


  • Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton. A family is shattered by a school fire, and the critically injured mother battles to protect her kids and uncover the truth around the events. Great story about the relationship between a woman and her family, tested by extreme events. The voice used in the story is a little confusing at times — I read the Kindle version, I wonder if the printed version used typography to better set apart the actions and thoughts of various characters.
  • Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin. Great detective tale featuring an abrasive self-destructive sleuth. I should read more in the series.
  • The Doctor of Thessaly by Anne Zouroudi. Another great detective character and story. In both this tale and the Rankin, the leads care about justice and to hell with the rules. But they go about it totally different ways. The Rankin character is a blunt rusty knife, the Zouroudi character is a judo master. Fun stuff.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. Fascinating but challenging read about life in the Mumbai slums. Challenging because the lives depicted are so brutal, the culture so corrupt. I’m left wrung out, and having no idea how to do anything about.
  • The Rule of Law by Tom Bingham. Well written and pretty crisp, a nice coverage of what the phrase “the rule of law” means, its history, and implications for today. Worthwhile.
  • Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. Eh. Teenage boys can be creeps, I don’t need a whole novel pointing this out over and over and over again.

Recent books — Dragon’s Path, Fault in Our Stars, Garden of Evening Mists, and more


  • Ghostman by Roger Hobbs. Excellent thriller about a world-class thief trying to thread the needle between rival criminal organizations and law enforcement. Great character. I’d read more featuring.
  • Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. I don’t read many popular business books, they are all so repetitive and derivative. This book wasn’t terrible — the authors aren’t trying to sell you on their thesis, but are giving you a compendium of tools for thinking about business models
  • The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng. Excellent story about a young ethnic Chinese woman in Malaya during and after WWII. The intertwining of many cultures, the horrific treatment of groups by the rulers of the moment, and how everyone coped and survived. A window into a part of the world and its history of which I have been largely ignorant.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Two teenage cancer sufferers find love amidst their tragedy. Not an easy read but will grab you. Apparently under production as a movie.
  • Extinction Machine by Jonathan Maberry. Eh. Super tough government agent violently unravels a conspiracy involving aliens. Not very original.
  • The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham. High quality fantasy. Not quite as bold as Game of Thrones but pretty darn good with compelling characters and a bit lighter tone than Game of Thrones.
  • The Double Game by Dan Fespeman. Held my attention but the motivations of main character seemed like nonsense.

Recent books — Alys, Dhalgren, Neuhaus, Teleportation Accident, Fade to Black


  • Alys, Always by Harriet Lane. A young woman witnesses a tragic accident and is then drawn into the family of the victim. Or insinuates herself into the family. I thought the tale was a little underdeveloped as either a suspense novel or as a character study, so just ok.
  • Dhalgren by Samuel Delany. I read this years ago on my first sweep through the SF canon. I was probably too young and didn’t understand it. Now I am older and I still am at sea, it is just weird shit. I am just too linear I think. Or too linear at this moment in my life.
  • Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus. Purportedly one of Germany’s most popular mystery writers — but I suspect Germans have better taste than this. Stilted dialogue, choppy language — a product of bad translation? Whatever, I gave up 40% of the way in. Blech.
  • The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman. Strong reviews, but just seems kind of pointless. The lives of wastrels in the mid1900s, as they bounce around but never quite engage with the events of the day. If the message is “most of us will live pointless lives and leave no footprint on the world”, well, ok. But who needs to read this?
  • Fade to Black by Francis Knight. Blade runner-inspired fantasy set in a noirish city, with of course plots and corruption mixed in. Solid.

Man I would hate to be the guy flogging Nooks at B&N this week

On the heels of “B&N’s rumored step back from the Nook”:, I bet he is “more forlorn than ever”:

This was an easy one to predict. Competing in consumer hardware against Apple (and Samsung), and with an undifferentiated product relative to the Kindle? The Nook was born with 2.5 strikes against it. Maybe there were ways that B&N could have succeeded — a device that made the retail experience better? That authors or publishers liked better than alternatives? — but competing head-to-head on hardware specs was doomed from the get-go. A lot of shareholder money wasted in direct spend on the Nook, and in opportunity cost as B&N chased this pipe dream and failed to innovate in their core business.

It will still be interesting to watch AMZN in this market. They will not be able to compete with Apple, Samsung on mainstream tablets. But they don’t necessarily need to, they can still be the best online retailer without making their own devices.

Recent books — Jordan, Sandford, Evanovich, King, Molina


* “A Memory Of Light”:amazon by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. This series finally comes to end, about 6 books too late. Good to get to closure on the tale but I can’t recommend starting the series. The first 3-4 books were excellent but then the series meandered far too long.
* “Storm Prey”:amazon by John Sandford. A fine detective tale — a team commits a robbery at a hospital pharmacy and then have a falling out, with deaths resulting everywhere. No new ground broken here but a fun ride. An aside — I only picked this book up because it was on the “2 for $8” hardback table at the local B&N. The only B&N purchase I’ve made in like 6 months, and I am their core market. There is no path to recovery for B&N.
* “Explosive Eighteen”:amazon by Janet Evanovich. My other $4 hardback. It is probably a mistake to pick up the 18th book in a series — my guess is that the high point of the series was probably back somewhere around book 4 or 5. Still, a lot of people must like these books since there are now 18. I thought it was trite, formulaic. Felt like the author spent a single afternoon writing it. I’m glad I spent only $4.
* “O Jerusalem”:amazon by Laurie R. King. I’ve only read a few of King’s Mary Russell series, they have all been very very good, as is this one. Wish I’d read another of these instead of the Evanovich.
* “A Manuscript of Ashes”:amazon by Antonio Munoz Molina. Tried to go highbrow but, well, boring.

Recent Books — Going Clear, The Big Truck That Went By


* “Going Clear”:amazon by Lawrence Wright. A tough look at Scientology. The author does a nice job of letting the evidence speak for itself. If even a fraction of the accounts of abuse are true, the church has some serious issues to face. The public figures who are adherents probably should step up and make sure their church practices are reformed.
* “The Big Truck That Went By”:amazon by Jonathan M. Katz. Recent history of Haiti and recovery efforts after the devastating earthquake there. Much damning evidence about the effectiveness of charities, about the US’s role, about the UN’s role. The author makes a compelling case that we should give much more aid directly to Haitian institutions and much less to outside institutions (including any US government or UN institution). Sobering.

Books I’m Reading — Haskell, Viruses

I am pushing myself a little this month.


* “Real World Haskell”:amazon by O’Sullivan, Goerzen, Stewart. Functional languages have always seemed like a research toy to me. But some of the smartest guys I know are using the concepts at least in commercial products, and “this post from John Carmack last year”: has stuck with me. So I pretty randomly grabbed this book, I could have just as well grabbed a book on Clojure or Erlang. Makes my head hurt but that is probably a good sign. UPDATE: well, Haskell is interesting, but we really need a functional language with great readability. Some of the decisions the Haskell designers made create nearly unreadable code; maintenance seems like it would be a disaster.
* “Vaccines”:amazon by Plotkin and Orenstein.This one is a total brain buster for me. But I am trying to get smarter about one of our portfolio companies, “Paxvax”:, and they tell me this is the text. I am pretty much lost three chapters in. Again probably a good sign.