Books! (Why Read It, Why Not Edition)

doc savage
Upgraded (Ed Neil Clarke, 2014/#63): Why read it: Some good science fiction tales around the concept of cyborgs. Why not: A bit uneven in quality; some of the stories are trying too hard to say something about the theme, if you know what I mean.

The Shadow of a Great Rock (Harold Bloom, 2014/#64): Why read it: It's Bloom writing about the Old Testament. Why not: It's Bloom writing about the Old Testament.

War Stories (Eds Andrew Liptak and Jaym Gates, 2014/#65): Why read it: Cf "Upgraded." Why not: Cf "Upgraded."

Reading the Sphinx (Lynn Parramore, 2014/#66): Why read it: There's more of Egypt in the present than we usually think, and most of it came through only recently. Why not: The interesting bits are outside the books' thesis, and I don't find the (vague) thesis very interesting.

Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy, 2014/#67): Why read it: The language and grammar are unexpectedly beautiful, at once rich and spare. Why not: All of the events and most of the characters are irredeemably awful.

The Peripheral (William Gibson, 2014/#68): Why read it: It's Gibson - his futures are more real and richer than most journalists' presents. Why not: It's Gibson - you could put most of the deep weird ideas in a couple of pages; the rest is masterful ambiance (we are all still living in one of his books, sort of, remember?), but I get at times tired of it.

The Madness of Cthulu (Ed S. T. Joshi, 2014/#69): Why read it: It's a collection of stories (mostly) around At the Mountains of Madess, which is one of Lovecraft's most interesting settings. Why not: Not all of the stories are interesting, and many of them carry through the contents of the setting without the weirdness and strangeness. Note that to do this you *must* extend the universe without explaining it, as by now Lovecraft's ideas are almost quotidian as a fictional setting.

Moriarty (Anthony Horowitz, 2014/#70): Why read it: Because Moriarty. Why not: It's not a very good version of Moriarty. Kim Newman's is much better IMHO.


Books! (Merchants and Conquerors Edition)

doc savage
The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire (Edward Luttwak, 2014/#58): A reread. A very illuminating look at a place and period we Westerners (just look at the term!) tend to gloss over.

Blindsight (Peter Watts, 2014/#59): A reread. One of the best contemporary SF books, IMHO. A fascinating version of vampires, a well thought-out future, and some of the most alien aliens you'll ever find.

The Phantom City (Kenneth Robeson, 2014/#60): The usual Doc Savage yarn.

Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice (Thomas Madden, 2014/#61): A fascinating look at medieval Venice through the family of the most famous Venetian of the age. For someone as interested on the Fourth Crusade as I am, this couldn't but be a delightful book.

The Honourable Company (John Keay, 2014/#62): A history of the East India Company that does everything it can to *not* see it as essentially the forerunner of the British Raj. I found it very interesting, not the least because of the way it weaves thorough so many other things.


Books! (History and Alternates Edition)

doc savage
Creating the Twentieth Century (Vaclav Smil, 2014/#56): A very good book on a very important and understudied period of our recent history; his thesis that the last generation or two before WWI saw a technological leap still unmatched is quite convincing.

What If? (Randall Munroe, 2014/#57): If you've read xkcd, you need no other enticement.


Books! (More Poetry Edition)

doc savage
The Figured Wheel (Robert Pinsky, 2014/#55): I didn't like most of the poems (except a couple I just posted) but Pinsky has nice turns of phrase and a keen eye for the moment (then what is missing? maybe what Linda Pastan described in Dickinson: the sheer sanity of vision, the serious mischief of language, the economy of pain; maybe it's just a matter of my idiosyncratic preference for density and conciseness). Perhaps my favorite part of the book was his short story in prose, Jesus and Isolt which I think is very good.


doc savage
Essential Dickinson (Emily Dickinson, 2014/#54): A frequent reread. I cried, which doesn't happen to me often while reading.



doc savage
Fresh from the metaphorical presses, Echopraxia, another Peter Watts book in the Blindsight universe. I haven't gotten my hands on a copy yet, but I'm full of anticipatory reading squee.


doc savage
The Vertigo of Lists (Umberto Eco, 2014/#51): A disappointment; it anthologizes interesting texts and images, but there's far from enough or interesting enough connective tissue between them. It feels lazy.


Books! (Rereads Edition)

doc savage
The Anatomy of Influence (Harold Bloom, 2014/#49): A reread.

A Man Without a Country (Kurt Vonnegut, 2014/#50): A reread.


Books! (How the 2010s Work Edition)

doc savage
Cities Under Siege (Steve Graham, 2014/#48): I'd argue that it's an important book, insofar as it provides a very good, integrated summary of certain common threads running through the contemporary world (e.g., "big data", urban warfare, changes in government priorities, militarization of police work, etc). As a caveat, I gave a talk a few weeks before reading the book on some of the same topics and with a very similar thesis (although less centered on the urban experience), so I'm not necessarily an unbiased reviewer.

For what it's worth, this also matches my experience as a freelance data analyst for (generally small) companies. The mythology of data-driven prediction as a form of power is very, very widespread (it seldom works very well, as is the case of all mythologies, but, also as is always the case with mythologies, this doesn't make it any less powerful).

Some of the later chapters on oil seem a bit outdated, and I believe the recommendations for "countergeographical" activism is probably not going to be at all efficient, but this does little to detract from the overall value of the book.


Books! (Rushed Reviews Edition)

doc savage
The Squares of the City (John Brunner, 2014/#46): Not bad. The psychology feels more outdated than the technology, considering.

The Cassini Division (Ken MacLeod 2014/#47): Very good. Banks-style in a number of ways.


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