The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was surprised at how fast I plowed through this book. So much drama and intrigue and history, I kept sneaking in chances to read wherever I could.
In a way, this felt like science fiction – the society and the culture was so strange and different from anything I understand that I could have read this for the world alone.
Well worth the 1000 pages of your time. Like reading a Neil Stephenson epic, but with a real ending.
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The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the most exciting potato novel I’ve ever read.
Mark Watney is an extreme potato farmer who grows potatoes under the most unimaginable circumstances. We get great insights into his yields, his daily practice and the terrible calamity that befalls his crop.
None of the potatoes make it to the end of the book.
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Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was good – but not as amazing as his other books. It felt like it fell apart more and more at the end, so many great ideas scattered across the field and then never explored, so many plot twists that meant nothing…
It’s kind of the Transformers: Dark of the moon for good thoughtful SF. Does that make sense?
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I’ve been sharing tidbits from You Will Die straight from my nook. It can share straight to twitter. That’s cool!
Just now, it told me that I had reached the “Sharing Limit“. That’s amazing!
You know what that means? In a conference call, someone said “But what if they tweet out the whole book?”
Mary Roach’s books are just like her TED talk. They’re smart, funny and charm you with a total affection for her subject matter.
I’ve read all her books and so far Packing for Mars is the best. She is writing about the insane goal of shipping a few bubbling meat bags through an irradiated vacuum for 500 days so that we can visit a lifeless planet.
She covers it all from a people perspective, looking at the glorious business of being a person. How do we handle the boredom, the food, the farting? She covers the serious problems with poop, pee, vomit and also sex. The book is worth reading for the chapter on Space Hygiene alone. It’s called “Houston We Have a Fungus”.
Near the end, a final quote from Ben Franklin, on someone who sees the Montgolfiers’ maiden balloon flight and calls it frivolous:
What use is a newborn baby?
James Boice reached out to me to collaborate on a digital version of his short story “The Degaussment”. I didn’t have time to make anything worthwhile before he released it, but I was blown away by the what he sent me.
This is a story of mad obsession, a dying technology, horrible wounds, and a skill that eats its owner alive. I tore through it in a sitting, then read it again later. You aren’t going to pay $2 for a better experience today, so grab it now.
James gives a crap, so he’s not just selling a Kindle or Nook version – you can buy a DRM free epub file that works or a PDF for the same price. I ended up buying all the rest of his stories – he’s selling them for $.99 each.
I do not often tell you to buy something. Buy this.
Young Helward graduates into manhood and responsibility at the age of “650 miles old.” For him, this means helping guide the city his civilization lives in north to safety on 4 giant rails. To the south,a terrible secret danger grows, always more powerful, always dragging anything too slow backwards into it.
We follow Helward through an inverted story on an inverted world. The hero is not the iconoclast, but tries his best to prop up the calcified old order. Over time we learn more about the danger behind them. The descriptions of Helward’s journey down south into the past is a highlight of the book. It is hard to tell you about this without giving too much away, but if you liked “Flatland”, you will like this.
Ok, that is nice, but the book feels always a little styled, a little uncomfortable and I found out why at the end of the book. The story arc is as twisted as the physics are. Also, the book was written in the 70s, there is a flavor of writing from that time that is unfamiliar on my inner ear. It is strange to reflect that in such a short time, the rhythms of writing have changed enough to make a noticeable difference, but they have. I can’t quite sort out what it is, but it is there. If you have any idea what it is, please comment.
Alas, it is a good book, but not a great book. I found myself appreciating the weirdness, but waiting for it to get even weirder. Perhaps this is because the book was written in a time where people were beginning to really feel the old order collapse, while I live in an age of change both exponential and fractal. I think you should read great books, and there are so many. You’ll die far far before you read all the great books, which is why I drink.
Another fin del mundo comes as Alan Moore’s Neonomicon. While Supergod is almost plotless – more a series of provocative ideas strung together, Neonomicon is a train on rails to hell. Every page brings you closer to Cthulhu in an FBI investigation of a Lovecraft copy-cult in Brooklyn. Instead of hitting all of the high notes of a Cthulhu story like Nick Mamatas did in Move Underground, Moore brings you the creeping dread, the knowledge of the potential coming. There’s one monster in the book (other than the people) but most of it is more about the dark at the top of the stairs rather than the monster stomping into view. Also, a secret about Alan Moore I have noticed: the secret to horror is killing real people. When a person with no connection to you dies, it means nothing to you. So, before Moore begins killing people in his stories, he connects them to you. Most writers don’t want to waste character time and exposition on people that they know are going to disappear later – they are having enough trouble getting you to care about the main character. Moore is fast at fleshing out people, so he has the time to make his secondary characters real characters with just hints and flashes of their past.
For me, the Brooklyn setting is icing. My adopted city is perfect for this sort of story, and if Moore gets some of the details of BK wrong, it is still creepier to read a horror story written WHERE YOU LIVE! Imagine “The Wilderness Downtown“, but after dark on a moonless night. That gives me another idea for a project – a short story set in your house, right where you live.
Supergod is a Warren Ellis blaspheme with a great concept. As the world ends and falls into chaos and darkness, a researcher narrates how we reached this sad state by weaponizing gods that we built ourselves. It’s explicitly about the superhero myths: why would these hyper-intelligent, superpowerful beings love us and care about our happiness?
The art is sweeping, raging battles between the weaponized gods of India, Russia, America, etc., or the blighted scavenged ruins of the apocalyptic end. In the foreground, the researcher – a Warren Ellis mouthpiece – raves about why people want gods, why gods would want us, how our flaws would lead us to misuse them in the first place. He’s got good points – we claimed the power to destroy the world with nuclear weapons and haven’t done so yet, but it often seems more an accident than our inherent goodness. I’ve got a soft spot for Ellis, ever since Transmetropolitan and Scars, and this is a good romp in his best style.