2015 Reading Ideas List
relies on a kaleidoscopic plot structure that showcases the author's stylistic virtuosity. Each of the narratives is set in a different time and place, each is written in a different prose style, each is broken off mid-action and brought to conclusion in the second half of the book. Among the volume's most engaging story lines is a witty 1930s-era chronicle, via letters, of a young musician's effort to become an amanuensis for a renowned, blind composer and a hilarious account of a modern-day vanity publisher who is institutionalized by a stroke and plans a madcap escape in order to return to his literary empire (such as it is).
This gothic "literary thriller," as it is routinely termed, was originally written in Spanish, but that's OK when your translator is Emma Graves, daughter of Robert Graves ("pbuh." as the saying goes). Whenever my wife or I am asked for a book recommendation and know very little about the tastes of the person asking, this book is our go-to, because we know one thing: the person asking loves books. And this is a wonderful book about loving books.
Winner of the Pulitzer in 2013, this story is set almost entirely in North Korea, and for my money takes the right approach to the subject matter by spotlighting the quirky weirdness of it all, rather than just wringing its hands over the starvation and labor camps. You may even enjoy this one more than me, since I live just across the DMZ and came to the book already having read about most of the strange facts that Johnson harvests for his backdrop.
A missionary visits space aliens, some of whom embrace the Bible eagerly, almost too eagerly. Meanwhile he and his wife on earth write letters back and forth, showing they are the true aliens to each other. This is the fiction book this year I enjoyed most, and the one I kept on wanting to pick up after I had put it down. It is one of the most resonant portraits of space aliens I have read. yet without it being a science fiction novel. Here is a useful NYT review, describing the book as “defiantly unclassifiable.”"
The tale of Beowulf via the monster's point of view.
Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.
In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.
Hard Science Fiction
The Martian, by Andy Weir.
It’s a very simple premise, and certainly one that’s been done before. It’s basically Robinson Crusoe on Mars. In fact, some of you Whatever readers might recall a movie from the 1960’s that was actually called Robinson Crusoe on Mars. That’s how unoriginal the concept is. But my “Big Idea,” such as it is, was to hit that premise with a hard sci-fi approach. I wanted to tackle the question of how a marooned astronaut might actually survive on Mars, using real science to back it up.
That’s where things got fun for me. Being a nerd, I love doing research and science to make sure everything is plausible. Every part of the book is as scientifically accurate as I could make it, from the energy consumption of a rover to the exact process for reducing hydrazine fuel to liberate the hydrogen with which the protagonist could make water.
And doing all the math had an unexpected and awesome side effect. It provided me with half the plot events in the story. For instance: Mark has to trick out a rover so it has enough power to travel long distances. I could have just hand-waved things and said he made some minor mods like adding a spare battery from the second rover on site. But when I did the math, I discovered that even a backup battery wouldn’t give him enough power to get where he needed to go. That limitation gave Mark a whole new set of problems to tackle and forced him to come up with an ingenious solution that could actually work.
It's a neutron star with a surface gravity 67 billion times that of Earth, and inhabited by cheela, intelligent creatures that have the volume of sesame seeds and live a million times faster than humans. Most of the novel, from May to June 2050, chronicles the cheela civilization beginning with its discovery of agriculture to its first face-to-face contact with humans, who are observing the star from orbit.
The novel is regarded as a landmark in hard science fiction. As is typical of the genre, Dragon's Egg attempts to communicate unfamiliar ideas and imaginative scenes while giving adequate attention to the known scientific principles involved."
The year is 2010. More than a century of ecological damage, industrial and technological expansion, and unchecked population growth has left the Earth on the brink of devastation. As the world's governments turn inward, one man dares to envision a bolder, brighter future. That man, Reid Malenfant, has a very different solution to the problems plaguing the planet: the exploration and colonization of space. Now Malenfant gambles the very existence of time on a single desperate throw of the dice. Battling national sabotage and international outcry, as apocalyptic riots sweep the globe, he builds a spacecraft and launches it into deep space. The odds are a trillion to one against him. Or are they?
… The year is 2020. Fueled by an insatiable curiosity, Reid Malenfant ventures to the far edge of the solar system, where he discovers a strange artifact left behind by an alien civilization: A gateway that functions as a kind of quantum transporter, allowing virtually instantaneous travel over the vast distances of interstellar space. What lies on the other side of the gateway? Malenfant decides to find out. Yet he will soon be faced with an impossible choice that will push him beyond terror, beyond sanity, beyond humanity itself. Meanwhile on Earth the Japanese scientist Nemoto fears her worst nightmares are coming true. Startling discoveries reveal that the Moon, Venus, even Mars once thrived with life—life that was snuffed out not just once but many times, in cycles of birth and destruction. And the next chilling cycle is set to begin again . . .
… In the year 2015 a red moon appears in the Earth's orbit: brooding, multitextured, beautiful, and alive. Catastrophe follows. While coastlands flood by the new gravitational forces, millions of people die. Scientists scramble desperately to understand what is on the big red moon and how it got there. And NASA astronaut Reid Malenfant, and his wife Emma, are hurtling through the African sky in a training jet, when everything...
[This story] takes up what happened on Earth after the First Contact in Blindsight. I won't summarize the plot, which is really only an excuse for Watts to do "literature of ideas" at breakneck speed and intensity. The atmosphere is more important – a sort of paranoid neuro-bio-punk in which mind manipulation has become so subtle and ubiquitous that the evidence of the senses is unreliable and every 'final' theory about who has done what to whom is subject to sudden and explosive refutation.
This what cyberpunk wanted to be when it grew up, but never quite achieved."
As the novel progresses, the main character becomes main characters plural, not via multiplex teleportation, but via time travel. Things being what they are in this Europe, and a strange, complex, not entirely reliable but rather theoretically credible species of time travel having been developed, Dominica is recruited into a program to send biologists back into the past to collect samples of flora that have gone extinct in order to hopefully repair the slowly dying biosphere.
But unlike the usual time travel storyteller, Jeschke neither ignores the usual paradox of characters in the past annihilating or altering their future selves or mealy-mouths his way around it. Instead he faces quantum indeterminism and Einsteinian relativity head-on and uses their implications for story purposes rather than denying them."
aliens arrive on Earth. They willingly subject themselves to being sampled and probed: tissue, blood, organs, DNA. The results are conclusive: These aliens are human. Their particular migration reached farther, and deeper into the past, than any other—but how? When? And why are they returning now? The answers to these questions formed my plot.
My protagonist was created from twin desires. First, I wanted to portray contemporary biological science as it is actually done: with sophisticated equipment, as part of an international conversation, with career-impacting mistakes and triumphant corrections. Too often, the “science” in SF is of the cloning-in-a-basement-by-a-mad-scientist type, or else gibberish hand-waving (“If we hook up the actofrabble cycle to the Hartford drive, we can create galaxy-spanning life insurance!”). I have enormous respect for science and scientists (all right, I’m a science groupie) and I wanted to show biological discoveries being made under pressure, with the inevitable competition as well as the teamwork, as realistically as I could.
Reread Old Favorites
- Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card. The movie was awful. I want to reread the novel, to wash out the nasty aftertaste.
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein. A classic. When I read it originally, I was too young to really appreciate it. This one I "need" to reread, to fully appreciate it. Starship Troopers[$6.99] and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. These are probably the two Heinlein novels that did the most to influence my libertarian opinions.
- The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov.
Foundation[$4.99], Foundation and Empire[$5.99], Second Foundation [$5.99]. One of my all time favorites. With the story coming to HBO, what better time is there to reread the books?
Night Angel Trilogy
The Sarantine Mosaic
These two stories take place in a world similar to Byzantium. I've been quietly interested in Byzantium, so I'm looking forward to reading them.
These two stories take place in a world similar to China. I've also developed in an interest in Chinese history and culture. That gives me an extra interest in these novels as well.
- Ysabel—The myths of the past meet the modern world.
- The Last Light of the Sun—Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Norse culture.
The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg
This is a collection that Silverberg himself has been editing. He's picking the stories from each era of his career. These aren't necessarily his best stories but are the ones that he thinks are most representative of each era. I've enjoyed both the stories and the author's commentary on the stories.
- To Be Continued
To The Dark Star Something Wild is Loose The Palace at Midnight Multiples We Are For the Dark Hot Times in Magma City The Millenium Express
I have a few other stories, mostly ones that I've picked up from the library.
- The Face of the Waters
- In the Beginning
- The Last Song of Orpheus
Times Three(Time travel!) Sailing to Byzantium Nightwings
How can we increase innovation? I look at patents, prizes, education, immigration, regulation, trade and other levers of innovation policy."
Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success by Ken Segall [$10.99].
I had a unique vantage point to some pivotal events in Apple history. This book focuses on one thing alone — the core value that has driven Apple since the beginning. Insanely Simple is about Apple’s obsession with Simplicity.
Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday [$9.61].
Anyone interested in the economics of blogs or new media should read this book, replete with and indeed emphasizing seamy tales of manipulation, etc. Think of it as Upton Sinclair on the blogosphere, and you will even find an anecdote about Marginal Revolution.
Christopher Hitchens portrays President Bill Clinton as one of the most ideologically skewed and morally negligent politicians of recent times. In a blistering polemic which shows that Clinton was at once philanderer and philistine, crooked and corrupt, Hitchens challenges perceptions - of liberals and conservatives alike - of this highly divisive figure.
The book is best understood as a prosecutorial document--both because Hitchens limits his critique to what he believes might stand up in an international court of law following precedents set at Nuremberg and elsewhere, and also because his treatment of Kissinger is far from evenhanded. The charges themselves are astonishing, as they link Kissinger to war casualties in Vietnam, massacres in Bangladesh and Timor, and assassinations in Chile, Cyprus, and Washington, D.C. After reading this book, one wants very badly to hear a full response from the defendant.
I’m not seeing this book receive enough attention. It is written in a somewhat fragmented manner, but it is an important and stimulating look at how growing social and economic complexity and the increased specialization of knowledge make the current organization of judgeships increasingly problematic. Furthermore the opening “legal autobiography” offered by Posner is fascinating and it could be turned into a longer book of its own.
Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and Enemies of the State by Stephen P. Halbrook [$9.99].
Based on newly-discovered, secret documents from German archives, diaries and newspapers of the time, Gun Control in the Third Reich presents the definitive, yet hidden history of how the Nazi regime made use of gun control to disarm and repress its enemies and consolidate power. The countless books on the Third Reich and the Holocaust fail even to mention the laws restricting firearms ownership, which rendered political opponents and Jews defenseless.
A skeptic could surmise that a better-armed populace might have made no difference, but the National Socialist regime certainly did not think so—it ruthlessly suppressed firearm ownership by disfavored groups.
If people were perfectly benevolent, perfectly virtuous, perfectly respectful, and perfectly committed to social justice, they could make socialism work. But–as I illustrate in chapter 2 and explain in chapter 4–they'd be capitalist instead. If people were exactly as sensible socialists wish they were, they'd be capitalist, not socialist.
From a moral point of view, ideal capitalism is better than ideal socialism, and from a moral and economic point of view, real-life capitalism is better than real-life socialism.
…the rise of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), how this technology developed, and the vibrant personalities that pioneered the energy revolution. Topics discussed along the way include the history and future of fracking, environmental concerns about the process, and how the story of fracking is the classic tale of the successes and failures of determined risk-takers. The role of market forces in driving that success and failure runs through the entire conversation.
David Simon was the first reporter ever to gain unlimited access to a homicide unit, and this electrifying book tells the true story of a year on the violent streets of an American city. The narrative follows Donald Worden, a veteran investigator; Harry Edgerton, a black detective in a mostly white unit; and Tom Pellegrini, an earnest rookie who takes on the year's most difficult case, the brutal rape and murder of an eleven-year-old girl.
The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon [$10.99].
West Baltimore, Fayette and Monroe: the corner. On this forgotten intersection, the American dream has crumbled to a nightmare. Here, the full price of the drug culture is being paid — yet, surprisingly, it can also be a place of hope, caring, and love. This extraordinary book tells the searing true story of one year in the life of an inner-city neighborhood.
Adam Smith may have become the patron saint of capitalism after he penned his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations. But few people know that when it came to the behavior of individuals—the way we perceive ourselves, the way we treat others, and the decisions we make in pursuit of happiness—the Scottish philosopher had just as much to say. He developed his ideas on human nature in an epic, sprawling work titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Most economists have never read it, and for most of his life, Russ Roberts was no exception. But when he finally picked up the book by the founder of his field, he realized he’d stumbled upon what might be the greatest self-help book that almost no one has read.
Libertarians hate slavery, and libertarians hate war. So how should libertarians feel about a war that freed America's slaves? Since 1996, the most nuanced response to that question has been Jeffrey Rogers Hummel's Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men (Open Court), a study of the Civil War that drew praise from academic historians for its scholarly rigor and from radical libertarians for its uncompromising critique of both the Union and the Confederacy.
Hummel's book is effective not just as an argument for a relatively rare position—antiwar abolitionism—but as a general guide to an important chapter of our history."
Knowledge and Coordination: A Liberal Interpretation by Daniel Klein [$20.80].
If you judge a book's quality by how frequently you come back to it or think about it, Daniel Klein's Knowledge and Coordination: A Liberal Interpretation is a very good book. I keep pulling it off the shelf for different things. This is a deep and provocative treatment of things economists usually take for granted: without entrepreneurs and the information-generating capacity of a profit and loss system, we can't discover the economy's underlying parameters (tastes and technological possibilities). Sometimes, this succeeds (Big Box retailers and warehouse clubs). Sometimes it fails (New Coke).
Profits and losses help us figure out when people have sown wheat and when people have sown tares. I doubt that a People's Ministry of Retailing and Distribution would have let someone like Sol Price--a San Diego lawyer who didn't start adulthood looking to get into retail but who helped revolutionize the industry in the middle of the twentieth century--succeed."
That is the title of the new Jo Walton book, and the subtitle is Re-Reading the Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy. It is an extended paean to the pleasures of re-reading, exhibiting a taste which is interesting , useful, and yet uneven (fifteen separate works by Lois McMaster Bujold are covered, each with its own chapter. I do like her, but…).
Most of the book offers analyses of individual works."
Once I actually started the book, though, my negative expectations swiftly faded away. The more I read, the more Epstein's creation impressed me. My final judgment: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels is the best book I've read all year, combining an important topic, thought-provoking evidence, and charming style."
Forty years in, the War on Drugs has done almost nothing to prevent drugs from being sold or used, but it has nonetheless created a little-known surveillance state in America’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Arrest quotas and high-tech surveillance techniques criminalize entire blocks, and transform the very associations that should stabilize young lives—family, relationships, jobs—into liabilities, as the police use such relationships to track down suspects, demand information, and threaten consequences.
Alice Goffman spent six years living in one such neighborhood in Philadelphia, and her close observations and often harrowing stories reveal the pernicious effects of this pervasive policing.
The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America by F.H. Buckley [$15.39].
Most Americans believe that this country uniquely protects liberty, that it does so because of its Constitution, and that for this our thanks must go to the Founders, at their Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.
F. H. Buckley’s book debunks all these myths. America isn’t the freest country around, according to the think tanks that study these things. And it’s not the Constitution that made it free, since parliamentary regimes are generally freer than presidential ones. Finally, what we think of as the Constitution, with its separation of powers, was not what the Founders had in mind. What they expected was a country in which Congress would dominate the government, and in which the president would play a much smaller role.
Sadly, that’s not the government we have today. What we have instead is what Buckley calls Crown government: the rule of an all-powerful president. The country began in a revolt against one king, and today we see the dawn of a new kind of monarchy. What we have is what Founder George Mason called an “elective monarchy,” which he thought would be worse than the real thing.
Much of this is irreversible. Constitutional amendments to redress the balance of power are extremely unlikely, and most Americans seem to have accepted, and even welcomed, Crown government. The way back lies through Congress, and Buckley suggests feasible reforms that it might adopt, to regain the authority and respect it has squandered.
In May of 1592, Japanese dictator Toyotomi Hideyoshi sent a 158,800-man army of invasion from Kyushu to Pusan on Korea’s southern tip. His objective: to conquer Korea, then China, and then the whole of Asia. The resulting seven years of fighting, known in Korea as imjin waeran, the “Imjin invasion,” after the year of the water dragon in which it began, dwarfed contemporary conflicts in Europe and was one of the most devastating wars to grip East Asia in the past thousand years.
The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge [$14.99].
a visionary argument that our current crisis in government is nothing less than the fourth radical transition in the history of the nation-state. ... The age of big government is over; the age of smart government has begun. Many of the ideas the authors discuss seem outlandish now, but the center of gravity is moving quickly.
This tour drives home a powerful argument: that countries’ success depends overwhelmingly on their ability to reinvent the state. And that much of the West—and particularly the United States—is failing badly in its task. China is making rapid progress with government reform at the same time as America is falling badly behind. Washington is gridlocked, and America is in danger of squandering its huge advantages from its powerful economy because of failing government. And flailing democracies like India look enviously at China’s state-of-the-art airports and expanding universities.
The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century by Jürgen Osterhammel [$23.99].
A monumental history of the nineteenth century, The Transformation of the World offers a panoramic and multifaceted portrait of a world in transition. Jürgen Osterhammel, an eminent scholar who has been called the Braudel of the nineteenth century, moves beyond conventional Eurocentric and chronological accounts of the era, presenting instead a truly global history of breathtaking scope and towering erudition. He examines the powerful and complex forces that drove global change during the “long nineteenth century,” taking readers from New York to New Delhi, from the Latin American revolutions to the Taiping Rebellion, from the perils and promise of Europe’s transatlantic labor markets to the hardships endured by nomadic, tribal peoples across the planet. Osterhammel describes a world increasingly networked by the telegraph, the steamship, and the railways. He explores the changing relationship between human beings and nature, looks at the importance of cities, explains the role slavery and its abolition played in the emergence of new nations, challenges the widely held belief that the nineteenth century witnessed the triumph of the nation-state, and much more.
The Just City is a fantasy novel about a group of classicists and philosophers from across all of time setting up Plato’s Republic on Atlantis, with the help of some Greek gods, ten thousand Greek-speaking ten-year-olds they bought in the slave markets of antiquity, and some construction robots from our near future. What could possibly go wrong?
Because if persons can be up-loaded as data, the data broadcast, and used to reassemble them elsewhere, then obviously any number of iterations can be reassembled in any number of elsewheres, all of them identical copies of the original in every way, including consciousness itself up to the moment of duplication. And then they all diverge and begin to live their own authentic lives. And there is no reason why they cannot interact with each other.
In Ghost Spin, Moriarty has not only fully acknowledged this reality but also explored it in its full complexity and with emotional depth and psychological and even romantic verisimilitude that no one has attempted, let alone succeeded in accomplishing before.
Human scientists contend with the Prime Directive, as enforced by an alien species.
But they aren’t allowed to make contact with the Ilmatarans, because of another star-faring species called the Sholen. The Sholen are more advanced scientifically than humanity, and have adopted a strict hands-off policy regarding pre-technological societies. A policy which they insist the humans follow — or else.
That’s all very well, but there’s a problem with that attitude. The native Ilmatarans aren’t passive beings. They are curious and intelligent. One group in particular are very interested in preserving and expanding scientific knowledge, and it’s that band of scientists who come across a reckless human explorer. He winds up advancing the cause of science in a very unpleasant way, and the violation of the no-contact policy inflames the Sholen suspicions of the humans.
The humans resent what they see as bullying by the Sholen. The Sholen suspect the humans have imperialist ambitions. Tensions keep rising and eventually explode into outright war — a war fought by two dozen individuals on each side, at the bottom of a black ocean under a mile of ice.
This is still one of my personal favorite novels—quirky and strange, but very amusing and borderline genius. It's the story of a man in the 19th century who fakes his own death, and when he rises from his coffin that makes a bunch of vampires think he's one of them. (The fact that he can go out in sunlight and stand garlic proves to them that he's the vampires' "chosen one," destined to lead them to glory.) With cameo appearances by historical figures like John Keats and Mary Shelley, it's an absolute blast to read.
First Contact - Digital Science Fiction Anthology 1 edited by Jessi Hoffman. [$4.99]
This is an anthology of ten original science fiction short stories from professional writers. We are pleased to present in this exciting anthology a rich range of compelling stories from established authors. First Contact includes science fiction short stories by Ian Creasey, Ed Greenwood, Ken Liu, Jennifer R. Povey, Rob Jacobsen, Edward J. Knight, Jessi Rita Hoffman, Kenneth Schneyer, David Tallerman, and Curtis James McConnell. In selecting stories for inclusion in this introductory edition we looked not only for exciting or novel content but for genuine literary quality. We know these science fiction tales will not only entertain, but will offer something extra as well: an aesthetic pleasure, a beauty, or a thought-provoking quality that renders them timeless. We thank you for your interest in our book, and invite you to plunge into the ten delightful stories contained within.
Our second edition of the Digital Science Fiction anthology series developed a theme all on its own - a theme of what consciousness is and what it means to be human and live a fully human life. Therefore I Am features excellent character studies of uniquely human emotions and traits as well as stories that give us an outsider's view of human consciousness and behavior. Whatever your point of view, this edition chronicles the concept of humanity as it evolves into the future. Digital Science Fiction Anthology 2 welcomes Christine Clukey as editor. We thank you for your continued support, and we invite you to leap forward into the ten stories contained in this work. We hope you enjoy them as much as we have.
Nulapeiron Sequence by John Meaney.
It is set on the world of Nulapeiron, which is almost entirely built over with many levels of construction, so hardly anyone ever goes onto the "roof" to see the open sky. This is not a new concept, but it is well-realised here, with a mix of human societies occupying different levels, largely according to their position in the hierarchy. It is ruled by despotic Logic Lords, each of whom owns a geographical territory, and above all are the Oracles - who really can see the future.
The story follows the life of Tom Corcoran, a youth from humble origins who gradually (with many ups and downs) rises to the highest rank. It is full of bizarre societies, strange modes of transport, violent conflict, tales of the legendary Pilots - who command space - and a final struggle to the death against a powerful alien presence which is gradually corrupting the population of the world.
The trilogy might be might be best described as a modern iteration of a classic space opera - without much space! At over 1,600 pages in all it is not a quick or light read, and requires concentration. Much the same can of course be said of a lot of modern SF, such as that by Alastair Reynolds or Stephen Baxter, but in my opinion Meaney has the edge on these two. Definitely worth reading.
"Epic fantasy with a side of alternate history, set on an Earth in which the spirit world is real, Africa has conquered Europe, and colonialism does not exist. Our swashbuckling heroine, Cat, must save her sister from the Wild Hunt while struggling not to fall in love with her own husband. There are also dinosaur lawyers and Casanova were-sabertooths...well, it's kind of hard to describe. But it's unbelievably cool."
What if there was an alternate Earth that didn’t have an England or even any Germanic-language-speaking peoples because of an extended Ice Age that covered parts of northern Europe?
What if, therefore, the Americas hadn’t been colonized, so their political landscape would look very different?
What if refugees from the powerful Mali Empire had gone to Europe with gold and status and become part of the ruling class? What if the rise of industrial technology was destabilizing the old order, but the radical notion of new rights sprang from a community-based rather than individual-based model of rights? What if humans had access to magical forces that could redirect the normal flow of entropy? Just go with me on the last one because an actual physicist gave me that line.
Out of that landscape walked a character and her story: An orphaned girl who lives with her aunt and uncle and her beloved cousin, her best friend in all the world, finds out in a shocking and unpleasant way that just about everything she thinks she knows is a lie–just about everything, except for the love and loyalty of her cousin, which is absolutely real and unshakeable.
Which is how I ended up with an Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, and the intelligent descendants of troodons.
What does it mean to be human?
This was not the question I meant to ask when I set out to create the anthology, Human for a Day. But it is the question that was answered by my authors.
… What I came away with was a better sense of life bordered by death. By giving such a short timeline—one day—I required each author to tell a tale of birth, life, and death. Though the stories ranged from the far past to the far future and into worlds that never were but could have been, there was single thread of familiarity. There was a sense of wonder and emotion that was at the heart of it all.
In the end, I discovered that becoming human was an emotional thing rather than simply a biological one.
That is the big idea.
A second Big Idea is that they are not trying to hide from us, but it never occurred to them that our astronomers would interpret red giant stars and supernovae as natural phenomenon, or that we would invent an abortive theory to explain the natural growth and development of novae, and not perceive that the stellar ecology, particularly the production of heavier-than-iron elements, is entirely artificial. And some of the objects we deem red giants are much brighter stars, viewed through the shells of their Dyson Spheres emitting waste heat. I invented for this book a corollary of Clarke’s dictum. In Count to a Trillion, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature. All the things our astronomers think are nebulae are war debris, or star-creation nurseries. You did not think the Black Hole at the core of the galaxy was natural, did you?
I love Arya Stark and Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire. But I don’t like that royalty and nobles – or royals and nobles in disguise – are almost always the main POV heroes in fantasy. So my characters are mostly lowborn.
I love the Aiel from The Wheel of Time (and that Rand is one by blood!). But I don’t like that Fantasyland’s pseudo-Arabs are usually depicted in a marginalizing manner. So I put the pseudo-Middle East at the center of my series.
I love Sturm Brightblade from Dragonlance . But I don’t like that fantasy novels have tended to depict holy warriors/paladins as noble and inspiring when wearing pseudo-European garb but scary when wearing pseudo-Muslim garb.
I love Star Wars (indulge me, please, by calling it fantasy), but I don’t like the way youth and self-discovery are so often the focus on fantasy plots. So I wrote a 60-something main character who damn well knows who he is – and just wants the world to leave him the hell alone.
I love Aragorn… But I don’t like the way heroic fantasy celebrates hereditary power so uncritically. So I slapped my heroes in the middle of a plot to usurp a dynasty.
I'm pretty sure I heard about this novella on a podcast three years ago, but I didn't keep good enough notes to point to the source. The gist is an individualist preventing the incursion of a foreign army, on his own, using his vast array of weaponry. It's an answer to the question of "What good is it to own arms to defend against tyranny? Won't the army always have better weapons?" In this story, not so much.
Isaac Vainio has spent the past two years working at the Copper River Library in northern Michigan, secretly cataloguing books for their magical potential, but forbidden from using that magic himself . . . except for emergencies. Emergencies like a trio of young vampires who believe Isaac has been killing their kind, and intend to return the favor.
Isaac is a libriomancer, brilliant but undisciplined, with the ability to reach into books and create objects from their pages. And attacking a libriomancer in his own library is never a good idea.
The Games by Ted Kosmatka.
This stunning first novel from Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist Ted Kosmatka is a riveting tale of science cut loose from ethics. Set in an amoral future where genetically engineered monstrosities fight each other to the death in an Olympic event, The Games envisions a harrowing world that may arrive sooner than you think.
Silas Williams is the brilliant geneticist in charge of preparing the U.S. entry into the Olympic Gladiator competition, an internationally sanctioned bloodsport with only one rule: no human DNA is permitted in the design of the entrants. Silas lives and breathes genetics; his designs have led the United States to the gold in every previous event. But the other countries are catching up. Now, desperate for an edge in the upcoming Games, Silas’s boss engages an experimental supercomputer to design the genetic code for a gladiator that cannot be beaten.
The result is a highly specialized killing machine, its genome never before seen on earth. Not even Silas, with all his genius and experience, can understand the horror he had a hand in making. And no one, he fears, can anticipate the consequences of entrusting the act of creation to a computer’s cold logic.
I read a fair amount of Urban Fantasy these days. And so much of it seems like people trying to copy Jim Butcher with varying degrees of success.
It gets a little samey after a while. I get weary. I get bored.
But Dirty Streets of Heaven brings a whole new game to the table. Told from the point of view of an angel. Yes. Hell yes. That's something cool. That's something new.
And Williams does a brilliant job of it. You get a backstage pass into the afterlife. The mythos is fresh and original and the story is full of all the things I want, good characters, mystery, action....
And on top of it all, the voice of the main character is great. Tad Williams himself is delightfully a witty, sarcastic, and occasionally sharp-tongued. This is the first of his books where I've seen those characteristics peek through to a significant degree, and it's great.
What I'm getting at is that I really dug this book. That's it in a nutshell. Made me laugh. Made me curious. Impressed me with its cleverness. Made me hungry for the next book. Kept me up late at night when I should have been sleeping.
Legion is a slightly different type of story for me. It's about a guy whose hallucinations give him useful information about the world—each one an expert in some area, they let him be a one-man army of experts. In the novella, this man—Stephen Leeds—is hired to track down a missing piece of technology: a camera that can take pictures of the past.
This is like an updated Pohl and Kornbluth novel. It's about what happens when someone discovers a cure for aging, which is first available illegally, then legally, and it changes society in various uncontrollable ways. It's got lots of neat little details. The first thing that happens when people realize they are going to live forever is that there is a big run on divorces. [Laughter from McCarthy and audience.] "Till death do us part" becomes quite frightening. Anyway, this book was published by Penguin in trade paperback as a literary novel. The story starts about 2015 but goes well into the future. A story about immortality in the future is now mainstream enough that you don't have to put it in the science fiction category.
In my mind, Grass is in many substantial ways the worldbuilding equal and counterpoint to Dune — each essay a unique global ecosystem with very specific creatures and cultures that exist only in them, and introduce an outsider (Paul Atriedes in Dune, Marjorie Westriding-Yrarier in Grass) who massively disrupts the equilibrium. And both touch more than a little on religion as a political system.
What Tepper manages that Herbert could never could in the Dune series is to make his characters recognizably examples of humanity — flawed and frustrated people, not always likable, and often in over their heads. This gives Grass the best of both worlds: epic scale and down-to-earth, relatable characters. It also makes Grass in many ways one of the most complete science fiction books I know of, functioning on every scale it works in.
(I’ll also note that in many ways, Raising the Stones, Grass’ very loose sequel, is even better — and more subversive. Honestly, I don’t know why Tepper is not better known and better honored in science fiction than she is.)
Private detective Jonah McEwen is wanted for murder. Someone has been killing women who resemble Marylin Blaylock, his former colleague and ex-lover. The latest grisly discovery is right on his doorstep. He is the obvious suspect. The problem? He has been in a coma for three years - a coma he has no memory of entering. And there's worse to come. Using matter transporter technology, or 'd-mat', a serial killer know only as the Twinmaker has been brutally torturing and killing perfect facsimiles of his victims and leaving the originals alive. As legal arguments rage about whether this even constitutes murder, Jonah finds himself in the awkward position of defending his innocence when his own exact copy might actually be guilty.
Set in a time where the lines between human and machine are increasingly blurred, "The Resurrected Man" explores the future of terrorism, law enforcement, and globe-spanning conspiracies. A perfect blend of suspense and science fiction, the novel follows the complexities of Jonah and Marylin's relationship and their quest to find the killer before he strikes again, as well as unravelling the tensions between Jonah and his father - a man who has been dead for three years but who might yet hold the key to everything...Nominated for the Aurealis Award and winner of the Ditmar Award, "The Resurrected Man" was hailed as a 'tour de force' in Australia, the author's home country, and described as 'compulsively readable' by Locus.
Recommended by Adam as "Historical fiction without a fantasy veneer but the same topics of ancient warfare [as Lions of Al-Rassan], well-researched."
After decades of war, mighty Athens has been ravaged-- its navy destroyed, its city walls toppled, its army disbanded. The fierce military state of Sparta has triumphed, but passions and hate linger on. Thousands of battle-hardened veterans from both sides in the conflict remain scattered across the Greek islands, restless and dangerous-- until the young Persian prince Cyrus issues a call to arms from his base in Asia Minor. The rogue nobleman is raising an enormous mercenary army to wrest control of all of Persia, the most powerful empire on earth, from his half-brother the king.
The young philosopher-warrior Xenophon, scion of a noble Athenian family and follower of Socrates, risks his father's wrath and embarks on the adventure with high hopes for glory. Joining his cousin Proxenus, the war-maddened Spartan general Clearchus, and a huge body of Cyrus' native troops, he and ten thousand Greek mercenaries depart on an astounding march of a thousand miles, across the searing desert. Their near-deadly journey culminated in a massive, bloody battle at the very threshold of Babylon-- a battle that proves disastrous for them. Their leaders are betrayed and murdered, their supply lines cut, and their route home across the desert blocked by the furious Persian king, bent on revenge. The Fates call on Xenophon to lead the devastated Greek soldiers in their escape, though he has little experience in commanding men. As the army flees toward the snowy north, its situation appears desperate.
Months later, ten thousand battered, half-starved soldiers stagger out of the frozen mountains of Armenia into a small Greek trading post on the Black Sea. Their true tale of survival, and of the heroic expedition Xenophon led through the heart of an enemy empire, astonished the incredulous natives and has been the stuff of legend ever since.
Here we have a fantasy series based in a world where pro football is a lethal sport played by humans and aliens, and financed and run by organized crime. Being the bookish geeks we are, we assumed it was already like this.
“In the Galactic Football League, wars are no longer fought in space, but on the gridiron. If you like aliens and football then I suspect you’re unlikely to find a better combination than THE ROOKIE. –Phil Plait, Discover Magazine
When the manuscript for The Three-Body Problem, also translated by Ken Liu, landed on my desk, it was my first chance to read a novel-length narrative from China (and a massively successful one, with over two million copies of the trilogy sold there). It broke my brain open in all the best ways. I would have been happy to publish this simply because such great science fiction doesn’t cross an editor’s desk all that often, and this book had it all: Big Ideas, sweeping adventure, an inventive and strange alien society that the reader is left hungry to learn more about. It also has a truly epic scope: the first book covers approximately fifty years of recent history, while the latter two swing out to horizons upwards of five hundred years in the future and well past the far reaches of the galaxy. Finally, Three-Body’s unusual-to-me combination of great SF and insight into the Cultural Revolution and other aspects of Chinese society are sadly almost non-existent in popular culture in America.
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.
One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.
Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.
This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....
For someone who took college courses in "Germanic Myths, Legends, and Sagas" and "Russian Fairy Tales", this book is an obvious must read. Also, it's an awesome translation.