Books May 2024

May 31, 2024 6:21 pm

Books I finished reading in May 2024. Designing and 3D-printing things sucked up a bunch of my free time this month, but I still got some reading in.

The Returning by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Not sure how I ended up with this book, but it's been sitting on my ereader for years.

The writing was pretty good, but the antagonist was kind of a Saturday-morning-cartooon, mustache-twirling, caricature.

Civil unrest in a sci-fi setting.

Silo 49: Going Dark by Ann Christy

Fan fiction of Hugh Howey's Wool/Silo world. This has also been sitting on my ereader for years.

Well written and edited, decent story. I enjoyed it. Explores what happens to a silo besieged by illness with a failing population.

The Worlds I See by Fei-Fei Li

Our most recent book-group book at work. A sort-of-memoir, sort-of-history of the work on artificial-intelligence and machine-learning systems.

Though I found it a little grandiose to compare the (impressive, yes) improvements in AI capabilities of the past ~5 years to anything close to the revolution in chemistry and physics that was quantum mechanics and relativity.

Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay

I saw a description of this in a internet discussion and it sounded interesting. However, it was disappointingly shallow and short.

The concept is someone in the year 4000-something falls into an old late-20th-century motel and draws erroneous conclusions about the purpose of the contents found therein.

Books April 2024

April 30, 2024 10:48 pm

Books I finished reading in April 2024.

Axiomatic by Greg Egan

This is a collection of short stories by Greg Egan which I really enjoyed. The stories are usually hard-sci-fi nuggets--explorations of "what if this were true about the universe?"

Some really great, though-provoking pieces.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

A "first contact" story. But it's not about space-faring species exploring the final frontier. Nor a nascent space-exploring species being welcomed into the intergalactic fold.

More of an exploration of what happens when fate puts a pre-industrial civilization at the center of an intergalactic incident.

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks

Sacks recounts the development of modern chemistry through the lens of his childhood in England before, during, and after World War II.

A time when an 11-year-old kid could wander down to a supply shop and come home with all manner of caustic, toxic, and explosive chemicals to play with.

Wild in how fundamentally different his youth was from anything that would be considered "normal" today.

And finally, The Father Thing by Philip K. Dick; which I read as a standalone short story. I think it qualifies as American Gothic in style--a brief horror story about an invasive species.

Books March 2024

March 31, 2024 7:41 pm

Books I finished reading in March 2024.

With prepping Corinne's birthday adventure and being sick I didn't get nearly as much reading done in March as I did in February.

The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker

I bought this way back in 2016, but only just got around to reading it.

It describes the 14 principles that embody the "Toyota Way" of doing manufacturing--much of which has come to be known, in part, as "lean."

I think perhaps the most distinct aspect from traditional American approaches is the requirement that systems be viewed holistically. Demanding that each individual process get faster/cheaper/better may get you worse results than are otherwise possible.

Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Griffin

I'm not really sure how this ended up on my list as its description didn't pique my interest, but it was and it was on sale for $2 so I grabbed it. It's kind of a modern adaptation of the Frankenstein theme.

Some interesting ideas, probably could have used another 100 pages to give it more depth.

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner

This was my most recent pick for the tech-books book group I meet with at work.

Bell Labs was a ridiculously influential organization of the 20th century: the transistor, undersea telephone cables, microwave data relays, satellite telecommunications, cell phones, fiber optics, Unix, the C programming language--just to name a few. All that, so much more, and the foundation of Information Theory.

It's kind of crazy how much of the modern world was influenced by that organization.

Books Feb 2024

February 29, 2024 7:01 am

Books I finished reading in February 2024.

The Last Ringbearer by Kirill Yeskov, translated by Yisrael Markov

What if The Lord of the Rings were just the revisionist history of the warmongering men and elves of Middle Earth? In this retelling of the events of the War of the Ring we see Mordor as a civilization on the cusp of industrial revolution. Gandalf convinces the men and elves that if Mordor's technological progress isn't stopped immediately then the magic- and tradition-based societies of the rest of Middle Earth are doomed.

Armada by Ernest Cline

Aliens are coming to invade the Earth. But video games are being used to secretly train a defense force of drone operators.

It's campy--and like Cline's other works full of pop-culture references. But the prose flows smoothly and it's a fun read.

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

This is the non-fiction story of Deogratias, born in Burundi (I hesitate to say "true" because, as Kidder acknowledges, it's impossible to corroborate many of the events). Deo was a third-year medical student working an internship in a rural medical clinic when Burundi erupted into another wave of sectarian violence.

After surviving a horrifying journey filled with abject brutality he finds himself with a chance at safety in the guise of a series of plane tickets to NYC and a falsely obtained business visa to enter the country.

He speaks French and Kirundi, but not a word of English. In a few years, through the persevering kindness of strangers and his own grit, he graduates from Columbia University, restarts medical school at Dartmouth, and eventually returns to Burundi to open the medical clinic he'd been working for since childhood.

Permutation City by Greg Egan

The human mind can be copied and then simulated on computer systems. These copies definitely feel conscious and sentient to themselves and others. But if the processing of the simulations can be cut up and distributed across space and time, what does that mean for our understanding of consciousness?

Books Jan 2024

January 31, 2024 6:59 pm

Books I finished reading in January 2024.

My second book in French has been an ongoing project for several months now and I finally finished it this month. Geist: Les héritiers de Nikola Tesla is an alternate-history murder mystery. The language it uses is significantly more complex than La Planète des singes and contains many words made up by the author for the story. So it took me a while to get through it. I'm quite certain I missed a lot of nuance, but I got the general story.

Set in Paris, it tells the story of an investigator on a murder case in a world of psychic powers and wireless electricity--set in motion by Tesla.

The Phantom of the Earth Omnibus has been in my ebook library for 7 years, but the ~1000 pages had been dissuading me from diving in. But I finally got around to it.

Humanity has retreated into the depths of the earth to escape a rapidly-mutating bio-warfare agent that has spread across the surface of the planet and kills in seconds.

But that's all somewhat ancillary to the story, which is about a dystopian dictatorship and the motley crew of rebels trying to overthrow it.

Doors of Sleep is the book the girls picked out for me for Christmas.

Zax has a problem. When he falls asleep he is transported/teleported/jumped to an alternate universe. When he finds somewhere safe and comfortable he stays awake as long as he can. When he lands somewhere dangerous he drugs himself into a quick escape.

Life is pretty bleak--and then it gets worse--but also better.

Blackout and All Clear are a single story told as a duology.

Connie Willis draws us into a universe where time travel exists, but can't be used to change history or get rich and so its use gets relegated to historians at Oxford.

She has other stories in this universe as well, including the short story I read in a science fiction anthology, Fire Watch, which introduced me to her work many years ago.

One thing Willis does better than any other author I've read is developing a scene of chaos / hecticness. You can feel the frazzled nerves, the frustration of being interrupted, and sense the time slipping away toward disaster.

In this story, a group of historians is studying World War II when everything goes wrong and they find themselves gaining a much deeper understanding of the history they're studying than they intended.