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Read any good books lately?

Started: 2007-02-03 22:09:53

Submitted: 2007-02-03 23:01:03

Visibility: World-readable

As a matter of fact, I have.

I tend to go through reading phases: I'll spend several weeks to several months chain-reading, then find other distractions to amuse myself with until the cycle repeats. Having recently purchased a Wii, I suspect my current phase may be in its waning hours.

Old Man's War

I read Old Man's War, by John Scalzi, in a twenty-four hour period during my most recent trip to Los Angeles. (It helped that I spent a non-trivial amount of time waiting for my plane at LAX and then flying back to Denver.) It's an obvious homage to Starship Troopers (which I read last year), which pretty much dictates that it features space-going infantry — with one big difference: soldiers aren't recruited until they turn 75. It's a great book, with a new twist on Heinlein's venerable mobile infantry.

The Ghost Map

This book's lengthy subtitle, "The story of London's most terrifying epidemic — and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world," pretty much sums up the book. Steven Johnson's non-fiction book tells the story of London's Broad Street cholera outbreak in 1854 and how it gave a young doctor the information he needed to prove that cholera was spread by water, building the sanitation system London needed to prevent future outbreaks. The historical information is fascinating, and in the last third of the book the author turns to the future of cities: No longer are they stinking cesspools, but they allow humans to live with smaller ecological footprints and to enjoy higher standards of living than rural life.

The Android's Dream

Next up was The Android's Dream, also by John Scalzi. This book is essentially how Douglas Adams would write a interstellar spy thriller. (A book that starts with an interstellar incident caused by farting could be nothing else.) The book obviously doesn't take itself seriously, but manages to string together a cohesive plot that kept me laughing, and turning the pages. The Android's Dream is a genetically-engineered breed of sheep with electric blue wool (which itself is a reference to Philip K. Dick's short story "Do androids dream of electric sheep?"), which happens to be critical to the internal politics of humanity's closest interstellar neighbors. (It turns out that with allies like these, humanity shouldn't make an effort to hunt down any enemies.) There's also a religion, the Church of the Evolved Lamb, created as a scam by a twenty-first century science fiction author that somehow became a mostly-respected religion.

The Atrocity Archives

I think all aspiring sci-fi authors end up writing H.P. Lovecraft stories at some point. Charles Stross just took it to the next level by writing a fun novel that's part cyberpunk, part James Bond, part Lovecraft, and part Office Space. The premise is simple: by performing some simple mathematical calculations, humans can open gateways into other dimensions, most of which contain unspeakable horrors intent on destroying humanity. Bob Howard (whose middle initials are allegedly O. F.) works for The Laundry, the secret British agency that keeps all this under wraps, and still manages to have the bureaucratic crises and internal politics inherent to any large organization. They may be able to keep the earth safe from unspeakable horrors, but can they keep Accounting off their backs for long enough to do so?

Off Armageddon Reef

I'm still reading this book, which is probably a good sign of its merits, since it's forcing me to time-share with my new Wii. Written by David Weber, better-known for the epic Honorverse, it's set on a planet colonized as a last refuge against a genocidal alien race. To keep the aliens from finding the colony, the colonists have their memories of Earth wiped and are taught to believe in the global Church of God Awaiting — which enforces its edicts against advanced technology (anything above a pre-industrial level) with an iron fist. It's packed with political maneuvering, which shouldn't be a surprise to readers of the second half of the Honorverse, and has a lot to say about religion. (I suspect the real reason Weber wrote this book is so he could deal with old-fashioned wet navies all over again.)