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2018 year in review: the rest of the books

See here for my 2018 top 10 list; this post lists the rest of the books that I read through the 20th. As always, some were worthy of comment and some weren’t. I thought this year I’d organize things a little differently and group books by genre instead of by reading order. As always, the links below point to Amazon; many of these titles are available on Kindle Unlimited, too, for extra reading cheapness.

Thriller, mystery, and crime

  • Crusader One. Implausible but still enjoyable.
  • Code Name: Camelot. Simplistic wish fulfillment. Well written but not very plausible or interesting
  • Point of Impact: after reading G-Man, one of my ten best for the year, I wanted to re-read this and am glad I did. Still one of Hunter’s best books.
  • Forty Thieves: a book about… pink panthers. Absolutely terrific.
  • The Last Man in Tehran. The third of Mark Henshaw’s thrillers, and every bit as good as the first two. I wish he were a little more prolific.
  • Priceless: I really liked Miloszewski’s other books but this one left me flat.
  • Codename Villanelle: interesting premise, and I really liked Eve.
  • Weaponized. Best described as a “wrong-man” thriller, with a ton of (often implausible) plot twists. Get it from the library.
  • Debris Line: 4th in the consistently excellent series from Matthew FitzSimmons, featuring hacker Gibson Vaughn and his compatriots. This one is set against a background of organized crime in… Portugal. Didn’t expect that! Great read.
  • The Blackhouse: murder mystery set on the Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland, with a not-very-likeable main character. Quite engaging nonetheless. I will say I wouldn’t want to live on the Isle of Lewis given the weather and all the shenanigans his characters get up to.
  • Heartwood: the second Billy Bob Holland novel from James Lee Burke. I don’t remember much about it other than that I enjoyed it.
  • Hap and Leonard Ride Again and Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade: two short story collections about a hippie Texas redneck and his best friend, who happens to be a gay black Republican, and their various criminal adventures.
  • House of the Rising Sun: So James Lee Burke wrote a book about the quest for the Holy Grail, and I read it and enjoyed it despite the ridiculous premise. Further affiant sayeth naught.
  • Robicheaux: complex but expertly plotted James Lee Burke novel featuring you-know-who.
  • Bandwidth. I didn’t remember this book at all. Once I looked it up on Amazon, I remember why I enjoyed it: tautly plotted and full of ruminations on the nature of power, who holds it, and who maybe shouldn’t.
  • The Ridge
  • Soho Ghosts: enjoyable mystery featuring anti-hero Kenny Gabriel and set throughout London. Cleverly plotted.
  • The Death and Life of Bobby Z: terrific Don Winslow crime novel. Just go read it.
  • King City: lightweight but quite enjoyable honest-cop-in-a-corrupt-world story, well told.
  • Finnegan’s Week: dated crime novel. I bet it was funnier when it first came out.
  • Salvation of a Saint
  • The Deep Dark Descending: only after reading this did I learn it’s the fourth book with the same protagonist, which probably explains why I felt like I was playing catch-up the whole book. Riveting nonetheless.
  • The King Tides: not too shabby. I’m looking forward to the next book with these characters so I can see whether this was the high or low point of the series.
  • The Lock Artist: superb combo of a coming-of-age novel, a crime novel, and a romance novel.
  • The Boardwalk Trust: I have grown away from reading legal thrillers over the last few years, but enjoyed this one enough to finish and recommend it.
  • The Good Samaritan: sadly, not very good.
  • Career of Evil: another JK Rowling crime novel, and probably the best of the lot. The ending was a giant cliffhanger and I am looking forward to reading the next installment.
  • Angels Flight and Trunk Music: There were enough differences between these two books and the past two seasons of Amazon Prime Video’s Bosch series that I didn’t feel like I was retreading old ground.
  • White Tigress: ridiculous on every level.

Science fiction

  • Earthcore. Scott Sigler has done better than this novel of homicidal underground space aliens and the cardboard humans they interact with.
  • The Hunters of Vermin, Deadly Nightshade. Two novellas set in the space-opera universe of Max Robichaux, coonass and fighter pilot. Thoroughly enjoyable if you liked the others.
  • Points of Impact. Marko Kloos = automatic purchase. This has a nice savor of Haldeman’s Forever War about it.
  • The Scorpion Game. Violent and reminiscent of Richard K Morgan’s “Altered Carbon.” Interesting world building with a biotech plot twist.
  • Punishment. Imagine that there’s a machine that can pull memories from the mind of one person and add them to another person. Now imagine this machine used for recreation, for punishment of criminals, and for investigation of serious crimes. The protagonist of this novel is a homicide detective who’s touched by all three uses. Imaginative, well-plotted, with crisp and real dialogue and a hell of a twist to the ending. Very recommended.
  • Empire Games and Dark State. Fascinating extension to Stross’ “Merchant Princes” series. More readable and better-plotted than most of his “Laundry” novels.
  • All Systems Red: how can you not love a book where the protagonist is a killer robot that calls itself Murderbot?
  • Revenger. I really wanted to like this more than I did, as I’m a big Alastair Reynolds fan. Still pretty good: space pirates are a great topic.
  • Forge of God: Greg Bear’s classic, which I was reading for the second time.
  • The Punch Escrow: Meh. I can’t see why this was so praised.
  • Superhuman: various people get superpowers. Some of them are former Marines, some are bikers and other criminals. Like a DC Universe movie, and I don’t necessarily mean that as a compliment.
  • Calculating Stars: what if, in the 50s, because reasons, there were female astronauts? I just couldn’t make myself love the main characters because the author kept hitting me over the face that they were female! and black! and laboring under the strain of the heteronormative patriarchy, which oppressed them at every turn! I should’ve just read a biography of Mae Jemison instead (and I would love to but there don’t seem to be any).
  • 14: if you liked Lost (which I didn’t watch), word is you’ll like this. I liked it anyway.
  • The Delirium Brief. The best, so far, of Stross’ “Laundry” novels. As a character, Bob Howard continues to grow in depth and complexity with each book, becoming correspondingly more relatable and interesting, and Stross’ dialogue is always top-notch.
  • Planetside: if you like Marko Kloos (or other military sci-fi), you’ll like this. Excellent debut, and I look forward to seeing more from the author.
  • Way Station: thoughtful book from the “golden age” of SF about aliens, immortality, and what it means to be human.
  • Six Wakes: clumsy characterization. I just couldn’t love it, and I don’t see what all the award excitement was about.
  • Infinity Born. Implausible but still interesting; tackles some big questions around brain uploading.
  • Twelve Days I couldn’t decide if this was more of a thriller or more science-fiction. Highly readable mix of the two.
  • Head On: quick, enjoyable, ultimately forgettable. In its favor, this is one of the only Scalzi books that doesn’t make me want to slap the protagonist for being smarmy.
  • Walkaway: I sometimes have a hard time seeing past Cory Doctorow’s politics, but I’m glad I read this thought-provoking novel about “revolution, love, post-scarcity, and the end of death.”
  • Sea of Rust: I can’t improve on this description from Amazon: “A scavenger robot wanders in the wasteland created by a war that has destroyed humanity in this evocative post-apocalyptic ‘robot western'”
  • An Excess Male: in a dystopian future China, plural marriage is the norm thanks to the One-Child Policy and its resulting shortage of women. Combine that premise with a neatly extrapolated nearly-dystopian future China and you have the makings of a solid book.
  • Exo (Fonda Lee)
  • The Collapsing Empire (audio): gets off to a slow start, and all the characters essentially sound the same. The second book in this story arc is supposed to be better.
  • The Million: boring and juvenile. Would someone please bring Heinlein back from the dead and give him this same story idea?
  • Stiletto: every bit as good as The Rook.
  • New Kings of Tomorrow: don’t believe the reviews on Amazon. Cardboard characters and a bizarrely overengineered plot mean that I won’t be reading the sequel.

Fiction and alternate history

  • Book of the Unnamed Midwife and Book of Etta. Provocative post-apocalyptic series with a lot to say about how terrible men are.
  • The Hangman’s Daughter. Fascinating medieval murder mystery featuring a character based on one of the author’s ancestors, who was a literal village executioner back in the day. There are at least six more books in this series that I haven’t read.
  • Lion’s Blood. Thoroughly interesting, and very well written, alternate history where Africa, not Europe, becomes the world center of gravity. There’s still slavery, but it’s African and Muslim slavers who capture slaves from places like Ireland and resettle them in a very different America. Great characterization.
  • The Country of Ice Cream Star: starts strong and then sort of peters out. The patois used by all the characters can be difficult to understand or laceratingly clear in turn.
  • Julian Comstock: boring
  • Centennial: absolutely marvelous narrative of the American West. I wish I’d read it 20 years ago.
  • Scrapper: powerfully written and atmospheric, but confusing. I’m still not sure I caught everything that happened.
  • Arc Light
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. confusing, perhaps a little chaotic, and yet powerful.
  • I Will Never Leave You: Worst book I read this year. I only started it because it was free, then couldn’t stop because I wanted to see how bad it would get.
  • Wicked Wonders: I was surprisingly engaged in this collection of magical-realism and fantasy stories. Better than I expected.

Aviation and space

Biography

  • Speed Girl: short account of Janet Guthrie, the first woman to finish the Indy 500. Fascinating, and the Kindle version has photos, animation, and other multimedia that really add to the experience.
  • Running Away: A Memoir. Obnoxious narrator who makes a wreck of his life and yet salvages something precious by training for the Boston Marathon. I was rooting against Powell for the first half of the book and cheering for him in the second.
  • Johnny Carson (Bushkin): dishy tell-all from Carson’s attorney. Lots of name-dropping and snark.
  • Masters of Doom: alternately fawning and critical look at John Carmack and John Romero, co-developers of the seminal video games Castle Wolfenstein and Doom.
  • Next Stop Execution: a memoir by Soviet spy Oleg Gordievsky. Fascinating personality study featuring an unlikable narrator who nonetheless tells an interesting story.
  • The Perfect Mile: fascinating account of the race (!) to break the 4-minute mile barrier. I learned a lot about the history of distance running from this and enjoyed the back-and-forth battles between the contestants.

Assorted non-fiction

  • The Idea Factory: superb history of Bell Labs, putting in context their inventions (the transistor, the laser, the cell phone, the communications satellite…) with lots of interesting detail I hadn’t seen previously.
  • Chrysler’s Turbine Car: absolutely captivating look at a little-known project from Chrysler: a turbine-powered everyday car. Great read for car lovers. The work done on this car is continuing to resonate today, as one of the key engineers founded the company that makes engines for cruise missiles and many small business jets.
  • Fool’s Mate: you can tell that the primary author was the lead FBI agent in this espionage case, because the book reads like an FBI narrative. Interesting but a little clunky, and ultimately the case it describes was minor compared to (say) Tolkachev’s story in Billion Dollar Spy.
  • Level Zero Heroes
  • Into the Raging Sea: sad and harrowing recap of the sinking of the merchant ship El Faro. I won’t spoil the plot, but it was almost all the captain’s fault.
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2018 year in review: my top 10 books

Even though it’s not quite the end of the year yet, I’m going to post my top 10 books for the year, selected from the 97 I’ve read so far. Closer to the 31st, I’ll post the rest of the year’s list, but for now, here are a few that I thought especially worthy of mention, in no particular order.

  • The Night Trade. I’ve always been a big fan of Barry Eisler’s thrillers, and am happy to say I discovered him just after the publication of his first book. To me, this is probably Eisler’s best novel, with an emotional depth that he has slowly been perfecting over the last few books. Characteristically excellent action scenes and plotting, as I’d expect, but a significantly darker subject (child sex trafficking) than his regular spycraft.
  • Billion Dollar Spy: Absolutely captivating true-life story of Soviet engineer Adolf Tolkachev, who spied for the US in the heart of the Soviet military establishment. Hoffman provides a meaty, well-supported mix of tradecraft, personality profiling, and you-are-there vignettes that make this a compelling read.
  • The Rook: imagine Charlie Stross’ “Laundry” series with a female protagonist and a great deal more polished wit, with fewer geek jokes. I wish there were more books in this series, as the second volume is equally good.
  • Ali: A Life: I have many fond memories of sitting with my dad and watching Ali box. Despite that, I didn’t know much about him as a man. Thanks to this perceptive yet entertaining biography, now I feel like I have a better understanding– and Ali was remarkable, in and out of the ring, in many ways. He was an archetype of the self-promoting pro athlete but at the same time a generous and complex human.
  • The Overstory. It’s about trees. Go read it anyway. You’re welcome.
  • Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command. Meticulous and deep history of JSOC, an enormously influential and yet largely unknown part of the US military.
  • The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War. I had no idea how much the Ford Motor Company contributed to World War II, nor the depth of racism and anti-Semitism that Henry Ford perpetrated, nor that his son Edsel was ever more than the namesake of an automotive punchline. Remarkable story of how the Ford family– mostly Edsel– conquered a huge number of technical, political, and logistical problems to build the world’s largest air force from literally nothing.
  • Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery. Fascinating memoir from an eminent British brain surgeon. Equal parts thrilling, educational, horrifying, and heartwarming.
  • Norse Mythology. Back in the day, I had Bulfinch’s Mythology to read. Neil Gaiman, whose work I’ve always enjoyed, weighs in with this very approachable take on Norse mythology– funny, engaging, and quite educational.
  • G Man: probably my favorite of all Stephen Hunter’s books. Like Barry Eisler or James Lee Burke, Hunter is able to get a lot of juice out of the same basic plot lines and characters. In this story, Bob Lee Swagger is hunting for the truth about his grandfather, a famous Prohibition-era lawman, so we get both his search but also the grandfather’s adventures. Cleverly plotted with great dialogue.

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2017 in review: my reading list

Earlier I posted my top-10 book list for 2017. Now here’s the rest of what I read, more or less in chronological order. I think there are probably a few other books that I missed somehow (e.g. I remember reading a book about the practicalities of emigrating to Costa Rica but can’t find it on my list).

Underground Airlines. What if the Civil War had never happened? Gripping tale of a present-day system of smuggling slaves out of the slave states, and what the commercialization of forced labor might look like in the US.

Dark Matter. Well-plotted thriller with some strong SF elements.

It’s a Long Story: My Life. If you like Willie Nelson you’ll probably like this. If you don’t, not so much. Heavy on the folksiness.

A Girl In Time. Meh. A time-traveling cowboy abducts a Seattle game designer to help him find his lost daughter. Not one of Birmingham’s better efforts IMHO.

No More Mr. Nice Guy. Thesis: there’s a condition known as “nice guy syndrome” that causes many men to become resentful and unhappy. Interesting read with a lot of immediate applicability in my life.

Only the Truth. Confusing plot but hey, it was free on Kindle Unlimited.

Amerika. WW II alternate history: the Nazis get atomic weapons and we don’t, so a thriving American resistance emerges, led in part by a Pan Am flying-boat pilot. Fast-paced and atmospheric.

The Prisoner. Another excellent John Wells novel from Alex Berenson.

To The Bright and Shining SunOne of James Lee Burke’s earliest novels, this has nothing to do with the Robicheaux or Holland families but is still well worth reading– a complex tale of a young Kentucky coal miner’s coming of age.

At Speed. Cyclist Mark Cavendish’s memoirs. Interesting at a technical level but made me think that I wouldn’t enjoy hanging out with him very much.

A Grain of Truth. Set in Poland and featuring Teodor Szacki, one of my favorite literary anti-heroes. Revealing portrayal of modern Polish culture.

Amerika: Call to Arms. The American resistance rides again.

Fields of Fire. Book 5 of Marko Kloos’ excellent military sci-fi series.

Entanglement. The first of the Teodor Szacki crime novels. Better to read this first before tackling A Grain of Truth.

War Shadows. Enjoyable if predictable yarn about valiant soldiers fighting The Bad Guys.

Prince of ThornsKing of ThornsEmperor of Thorns: Medievalist fantasy series that puts a nifty twist on the Prodigal Son story. This genre isn’t my usual fare but I enjoyed the series.

Sleeping Giants. Aliens come to Earth. A little girl discovers one of their artifacts, then grows up to be an eminent physicist who helps unravel the mystery behind their presence. Not too shabby.

Anansi Boys: re-read this classic Neil Gaiman retelling of the trickster legend. Still just as good as it was back in the day.

Anathemre-read this one too. For my money, this is probably Stephenson’s best world-building, although it is slow to develop and there are a lot of Gibsonesque leaps that require you to pay careful attention to new terms and concepts that are just thrown in.

Split SecondThoroughly enjoyed this twist on familiar time-travel themes: a physicist discovers time travel but it only lets you send objects back a few milliseconds. Hijinks ensue.

Snapshot. Detective novel set in a world where high-fidelity simulations allow cops to recreate murder scenes with perfect accuracy. Not bad but didn’t love it.

Beach Lawyer. Well-written legal thriller– there are a ton of plot twists in this so I had to go back and re-read some passages to make sure I didn’t lose the bubble.

Carrier Pilot. Fascinating memoir of a World War II Corsair pilot in the RAF. Nice change from my typical diet of WW II reading from the American perspective.

The Brave OnesAffecting memoir by a man who joined the Army at age 41 and ends up in the 82d Airborne Division.

The War Planners, The War StagePawns of the Pacifictrilogy in which the Chinese mount a false-flag operation to get a group of brilliant US engineers and scientists to devise a foolproof war plan to attack the US. A novel concept, well-plotted and nicely executed.

Sled DriverThis book by Brian Shul covers his time as an SR-71 pilot. Fascinating if you’re interested in airplanes, otherwise not so much.

On TyrannyShort, simple, practical list of examples of tyranny through the 20th century, along with tips for resisting similar instances in our own century.

The Black Widow. Another excellent Gabriel Allon adventure from Daniel Silva. Get this one as an audiobook and revel in the quality of the narration.

Soho DeadSuppose you’re 60 and an out-of-work private investigator living in London. Can you find some new ways to get in trouble? Yes. Yes, you can. Fun read.

Devil at my HeelsAutobiography of Olympian and WW II bomber pilot Louis Zamperini, immortalized in Unbroken. Moving and thought-provoking.

The Naked DameNoir novel by my friend Jason Bovberg. That tells you everything you need to know whether you’ll like this or not.

Working Stiff. Written by a New York City medical examiner, this book is exactly what you’d expect: gritty, occasionally morbid, and absolutely fascinating.

Devil Said Bang. Sandman Slim rides again.

Zero Sum. Legendary assassin John Rain didn’t start out that way… so this book takes us back to 1982 when he was just starting out.

Unbreakable. Meh. Like “The Truman Show” but not as interesting. 

The Boy Who Played With FusionI really wanted to like this but the overall effect of this biography of a young scientist is sort of creepy.

Into Everywhere. Another book in the Jackaroo universe, this one features a plot twist midway through that stunned me for a few minutes– not something most authors can pull off. Well worth reading but read the first book in the series first.

Beneath a Scarlet SkySuperb, lightly fictionalized account of the life of Pino Lella, a World War II partisan who helped run the rat line that smuggled Jews out of Italy over the mountains. Terrific atmosphere.

The Caine Mutiny. Somehow I had managed to not read this for the first 48 years of my life. I wish I’d read it sooner.

The Nightmare Stacks. The amount of enjoyment I get from the Laundry Files novels scales up as the amount of Bob Howard goes down. This book scores very highly on that scale.  

The Last ParadiseI wish this were better-written– it’s a fascinating story of a Depression-era auto engineer who goes to work for Ford’s factory in the Soviet Union. Terrible dialog and a clunky plot.

The Last Pilgrim and Hell is OpenCrime novels set in Norway featuring a likable but not very pleasant detective. Tommy Bergmann is the kind of guy about whom my mother might say “well, bless his heart.”

Time Heals No WoundsSet on the Baltic coast, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill crime novel. I enjoyed it but, apart from the setting, nothing memorable.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 34th annual editionEvery year I order this with trepidation- will it be a good year or a bad one? This year’s edition was quite good.

GlidepathHacker terrorist bad guys take over an autonomous passenger aircraft. The only thing standing between them? Some dude who happens to be the son of the manufacturer and a target of Russian mercenaries. Not bad but nothing really original here.

Solar Clipper books: Quarter Share, Half Share, Full Share, Double Share, Captain’s Share, Owner’s Share, In Ashes Born. Enjoyable space opera, with memorable and witty characters. Heinleinesque in a good way. Good for middle-school kids and up.

Station Breaker and Orbital. Ridiculous, but in the best way. Insanely fast paced, implausible, and breezy stories about an almost-accidental astronaut who ends up saving the world not once, but twice, in space.

The ExtraditionistThe protagonist is a thoroughly unlikable human being: he helps drug lords cut deals with the US government to reduce their sentences in exchange for cooperation. I felt a little slimy when I was done reading this.

The Saga of Pappy Gunn1950s-era retelling of the life of one of World War II’s most colorful and memorable characters– Paul “Pappy” Gunn. I’d never heard of him before this book.

Mona Lisa Overdrive. Another classic that I re-read. If anything, it holds up better now than either of the other two books in the trilogy.

The Man of LegendsA neat twist on the “Wandering Jew” legend: an immortal passes through history trying to make the world a better place so… he can finally die.

Cold HarborThe third book featuring hacker and former Marine Gibson Vaughn, this story centers around Vaughn’s quest for revenge after being rendered and held in solitary confinement at a CIA black site. Thought-provoking

Slovakia: Culture SmartApproachable, detailed, informative guide to the history and culture of one of Central Europe’s lesser-known countries. It was extremely valuable to me before my first trip there.

The Berlin Project. Disappointingly slow and turgid alternate history of WW II– what if the Allies had found a shortcut to creating atomic weapons and were able to ready them in time for use against the Nazis?

The Last Good ManI like Linda Nagata’s fiction but it’s just sort of, well, jumpy. She’s all over the place. Ethics in combat, forgiveness, the rise of autonomous bots in warfare, the role of private military contractors… this book has an awful lot going on and suffers as a result.

The Freedom Broker. Interesting look at the world of kidnap & ransom (K&R) specialists. Apart from the unique informational touches related to K&R, a pretty standard thriller.

The Point of a GunCompletely implausible tale of a shadow cabinet of US government officials who go off the reservation to hunt terrorists, doing such a good job that the President has no choice but to make them official. The ending reminds me of the problems I used to get in college calculus: once you know the trick to solving them, the solution is obvious but, until then, it’s a grind.

Yesterday’s Kin. I’ve very much enjoyed Nancy Kress’ books in the past but just couldn’t love this one. The heroine is shrill and unsympathetic, and the ending is a giant fizzle.

Not so much, said the cat. I adore everything I’ve ever read by Michael Swanwick. I’m not sure how I missed this collection of short stories before but it’s superb.

Slow Bullets. Skip this space opera. Reynolds has written better, and so have many others.

The Lieutenant Don’t Know. People who have never been in the military generally have no idea how many supposedly non-combat jobs actually involve combat. Clement’s memoir of his time as a Marine logistics officer in Afghanistan is well-written and makes that point very, very clear.

Beyond the RiftShort-story collection from Peter Watts, who writes challenging but often distasteful science fiction. Some of the stories here were excellent, some were awful (I don’t mean poorly written, I mean awful.)

Heat and Light. Wow. This complex novel traces a group of characters in rural Pennsylvania as they struggle with the problems caused by hydraulic fracking in the community. Unflinching. Very highly recommended.

In Calabria. Suppose unicorns were real, and that you found one hanging around your farm in rural Italy? Beagle has written a charming and moving story that revolves around the answers to those two questions. Much more enjoyable than I thought it would be at first.

The Mote in God’s Eye. I re-read this after nearly 20 years and it is still one of the best-plotted SF novels I’ve ever read.

Gold CoastWhen you read Elmore Leonard you know what you’re going to get. Like eating at Chili’s: predictable quality but, if that’s what you want, you’ll walk out happy.

Afterlife. This is the first Marcus Sakey book I cannot unreservedly recommend. It was merely OK, whereas his others (such as the Brilliance trilogy) are excellent.

Fly by Night. Enjoyable aviation-themed thriller about an NTSB investigator sent to poke around for evidence of a lost CIA drone in Africa.

Quantum Night. Robert J. Sawyer has had a long and distinguished career, so I suppose we have to allow him an occasional clunker every so often… and this would be it. Not recommended.

Hunter Killer. Very good 17th book in the Dan Lenson series. Ends too soon– it’s clear that Poyer hit his page count and knocked off work for the year. I’d rather see him write complete narratives that come out every two years than half a book released yearly.

Autonomous. Very good– it’s been called “the Neuromancer of biotech” and that’s not wrong. Touches on some critical issues of patent and IP law, as well as what it means to be autonomous as a human or a bot.

The Force. Rich, complex, and affecting. Winslow pulls no punches. Complicated and believable characters, crackling dialogue, and a logical yet unpredictable plot push us along to the inevitable end. Would’ve been on my year’s 10 best list if I had read it earlier in the year.

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2017 in review: my top 10 reading list

I decided to post my 2017 reading list a little earlier because there are some real gems here that would make great holiday gifts for people who enjoy various genres. for today, my top 10. In a day or two, the rest of the year’s haul; expect another post around the 31st with the books that I finish between now and then.

Here are my top 10 for 2017 in the order in which I read them:

  1. John Wayne: The Life and Legend. Superbly rich and detailed bio of an American icon– I came out of this with new respect for his wit and grit.
  2. Eccentric Orbits: the Iridium Story. Excellent in every way. Reads as much like a thriller or murder mystery at some points as a business book. (Spoiler: Motorola did it, or tried to).
  3. Spaceman. Lovely autobiography by astronaut Mike Massimino. Uplifting and motivating. Great for kids who might be interested in the space program or STEM in general.
  4. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. Enraging and sad. I can’t tell whether I was more angry at the companies and people who profited from the explosion of prescription opiates or the Mexican cartels who simultaneously flooded the US with cheap heroin, both driving and benefiting from demand for prescription pills.
  5. Walking the Amazon. Bugs! Machetes! Killer natives! Exactly what the title implies: a man walks the length of the Amazon river. Fascinating look into something I never want to have to experience myself.
  6. Mississippi Blood: like getting in the boxing ring with Evander Holyfield in his prime, this book is a continuous series of hammering body blows. Unrelenting conclusion to the three-book “Natchez Burning” arc. Grab a cup of coffee because this will take a while to get through.
  7. The Fireman: I was initially skeptical of this post-apocalyptic novel, but in the first few pages the wit of the writing won me over.
  8. The Jealous Kind. I am a lifelong James Lee Burke fan but this is probably his crowning achievement. Set in 1950s Houston, the novel is at once a romance, a coming of age, and a polemic, and it has an ending that for me hit the perfect note combining the three. Burke has a tendency sometimes to make his villains cartoonishly, over-the-top bad guys but the ones here have understandable motivations, and all except the worst are clearly struggling to redeem themselves. And his main characters… wow. Read this.
  9. Atomic Accidents. I have a pretty solid layman’s understanding of atomic power technologies and their history. At least, I thought so until I read this book. One of the clearest, most interesting, and least biased scientific histories I’ve ever read, and absolutely bursting with little-known facts (example: high-speed power-plant turbines are cooled with gaseous hydrogen!)
  10. Stonemouth: atmospheric novel centering on a man’s return to his boyhood home in Scotland, very much against the wishes of a local crime family. Well plotted with vivid characters and a terrific sense of place.

Yesterday’s Kin

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Exchange 2013 Inside Out early access versions on sale

For a limited time, O’Reilly and Microsoft Press have the “early access” editions of Exchange 2013 Inside Out: Connectivity, Clients, and Unified Messaging and Exchange 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox and High Availability on sale for $19.99 each. This is a fantastic deal given that you get early electronic access to the books– I am still in the midst of working on my book, but you can get access to parts of it now to learn what you need to know, well in advance of its official on-sale date. The deal is good until 0500 PDT on July 3, so you have a bit of time to take advantage of it. (Note that the sale doesn’t apply to the bundle that includes both the print book and the early access electronic edition).

 

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Attached (Levine and Heller)

I am not a big fan of self-help books. The ones I’ve encountered tend to either be vapid and vague or so full of jargon as to be worthless. Perhaps it’s the influence of too much Nietzsche, but I generally believe that most people can solve their own life problems if they make a genuine effort to do so. (Of course, that’s not always true for things like clinical depression.) Clearly there are lots of biological influences that shape our brains and bodies, and thus our perceptions and actions, but that’s not the only explanation.

So when a friend of mine suggested I read Levine and Haller’s Attached, I was skeptical. The subtitle, “The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find– and Keep– Love”, didn’t ease my skepticism any. Usually when something is described as a “new science” it’s anything but. However, I am determined to be more introspective going forward, and to better understand myself as a person, so I figured I’d give the book a try. After all, I could always get a good laugh if it was worthless.

Reading the book, however, changed my mind completely. Heller and Levine present a well-reasoned case, backed by Actual Science, that there are biological attachment mechanisms that in large measure govern how we relate to others. They focus on romantic attachment, but much of what they say can be applied to familial or even work relationships. According to them, human attachment behavior falls into three categories: secure people are easily able to form stable, lasting relationships with good emotional intimacy; avoidant people unconsciously seek to create distance when an intimate partner starts getting too close, and anxious people continually try to increase intimacy with their partner by drawing them closer. The avoidant and anxious attachment types both engage in what the authors call “protest behavior”– in essence, acting out. Avoidants do things like belittling their partner or recounting how great their ex was, while anxious types act clingy, attempt to incite jealousy, and so on.

The book is loaded with anecdotes about various behavior, good and bad, of couples who participated in Levine and Heller’s research. Most of these are pretty obvious; it’s easy to identify who’s stable, who’s anxious, and who’s avoidant in each vignette. However, they offer some concrete and actionable strategies for identifying your own attachment type, dealing with people of other types, and understanding the attachment style of your partner. They present these strategies as a means for those who are dating to pick suitable partners (e.g. anxious and avoidant people generally make a terrible pairing) and for those who are already paired to better understand their partners’ styles and how to interact with them.

I enjoyed the anecdotes; more importantly, I found the analysis of each attachment type to be well-reasoned, and I could certainly identify my own style based on the questionnaires in the book. Reading the book helped me make sense of a number of things that I hadn’t fully understood before, so it met my goal of equipping me with a bit more self-knowledge. In that light, it was money well-spent. Recommended if you’re into self-help books; if not you might prefer to get it from the library and read the first few chapters before deciding.

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