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Books I've read so far this year

Started: 2014-09-07 12:20:21

Submitted: 2014-09-07 16:35:36

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator lists the books he's read so far in 2014

We're eight months into 2014, which has given me plenty of time to read. Much of my reading has been new books in genre series I've read, but I've also read a number of unrelated new books, backlist books, and non-fiction books. I'll use this list to influence my Hugo nominations next year, though I'm also looking forward to a number of books I haven't read yet, including Lock In by John Scalzi (having just attended his event at The Tattered Cover) and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie.

I'm not going to cover books I've already discussed in the context of this year's Hugo Awards; for a complete picture of other books I've read see SF I read in 2013 and 2014 Hugo awards.

Here I've split my reading into three sections: non-fiction, new fiction (published in 2014), and backlist fiction (published in earlier years).


Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think by Bryan Caplan: This was the first book I read after Kiesa and I started contemplating a long-term investment in the future of our family. The author discusses a hodgepodge of research on twins, especially those separated at birth (suggesting that parenting matters less than genetics), parenting techniques, and other related topics to conclude that parents don't need to stress out about parenting -- and parents don't need to spend as much time as your stereotypical GenX helicopter parent does to get high-performing children and a satisfying family life.

A Travellers History of Scotland by Andrew Fisher: I read this book while preparing to visit Scotland this spring to help form the basis of my understanding of Scottish history (which is about to hit a singularity in about two weeks with the historic independence referendum). Like the other books in the series I thought it could have spent a bit less time in early history and a bit more time in modern history.

Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong -- and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster: Written by an economics professor, this book is a literature review of the research into pregnancy, and tries to present a data-driven view of what the research really says about pregnancy. It does a good job of poking holes in the conventional wisdom about alcohol and caffeine, but I thought it could have done a little better in admitting where we simply don't know enough to make any inferences at all. (Professor Oster does not mention the dearth of research into pregnancy at high altitudes. When pregnant with Calvin, Kiesa's doctor told her to avoid 'lingering' at altitudes above 10,000 feet on the basis of two studies on high-altitude pregnancy: one done on sheep, and one done on Tibetan women -- neither of which are enough to suggest anything about high-income women living at 5,000 feet in Boulder.)

New Fiction

Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey: I started reading "The Expanse" this year and have enjoyed every book so far. This is their "western" novel -- set on the frontier beyond the reach of existing law-enforcement. (Though the authors point out that if they wrote every book in a different style they'd be down to nurse novels at the end of their nine-book contract.) The whole series is being adapted for SyFy, which is apparently returning to its roots after wandering in the wilderness of reality TV and Sharknado for years.

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett: This book adds steam engines to a rapidly-industrializing Discworld, including a loving depiction of the eccentric people who make a railroad work. (As an engineer, these are my people.) I liked Pratchett's treatment of religious extremism in the face of social progress. This is probably the best Discworld I've read to date.

The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross: Four of the six entries under "new fiction" here are follow-up books in series I've already read. This book adds vampires and extreme programming to the mix of Stross' Lovecraft-meets-Office Space "Laundry" series. (I get the feeling that Charles Stross has had some bad experiences with scrum -- and I can't say I blame him.) I enjoyed the book and actually wished I could spend a bit more time in the Laundry universe.

Annihilation: A Novel by Jeff VanderMeer: This was an entertaining quick read, covering a government expedition into a mysterious area that has annexed an unspecified part of the US gulf coast. It plays up the paranormal and horror aspects of genre fiction more than most fiction I read. There are two more books out in the series this year which I intend to read, as soon as I work my way through my arm-length reading list.

Like a Mighty Army by David Weber: I've been a loyal reader of Weber's Safehold series since the beginning, and I enjoyed this book in the series, despite the depiction of boob plates on the cover art. This book seemed to advance the plot better than some of the previous books in the series, which may just mean that the next book will be slower as Weber puts more of the pieces in place for the book that comes after it. I'm amused by the way Weber takes the tactics and strategy from early modern warfare on Earth and applies it to a new setting. I'd still like to see updated maps so I can follow the action better.

The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir: An astronaut gets stranded on Mars on the third manned mission and resorts to heavy-duty ad-hoc engineering to survive. I think an entire undergraduate engineering curriculum could be written around this book. This book hit all the right buttons for me and I loved it. At this moment, not quite three-quarters of the way through the year, it's my number-one recommendation for the year.

Backlist Fiction

The Luminaries: A Novel by Eleanor Catton: This book won the prestigious Man Booker Prize last year; reading it was my one concession to mainstream literature. It was a long and ultimately rewarding read.

The Fat Years: A Novel by Koonchung Chan: This year I've put my obsession with China on hold while we cast our gaze towards a new long-term investment in our family (another baby), but I stumbled across this book in an article in The Wall Street Journal and decided to read it. It posits a world-wide financial crisis that puts China on top of the new world order at the cost of a lost month that no one in China remembers and no one cares. (Starbucks gets bought out by a Chinese conglomerate and sells a "lychee black dragon latte", which actually sounds really good.) The closest American genre analog would probably be magic realism, though it was originally written in Chinese so the genre rules are different. This book suffers from the problem I've noticed with most books I've read in translation, where the original language's sentence and narrative structure show through despite the translator's best efforts to normalize it into English. I enjoyed the speculative look into Beijing and Chinese society.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu: This was an amusing but ultimately forgettable action/sci-fi story. Watching Team America: World Police has forever ruined all training montages for me (though training scenes trend towards self-parody anyway).

Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, and Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey: Kiesa started reading this series ("The Expanse") a couple of years ago and told me I should read it, but like an idiot I ignored her recommendation until this year. And then I blew through the first three books in the series and read the fourth book when it was released. It's a great near-future space opera set in our solar system with Earth and Mars and the outer planets and greedy mega-corporations in an uneasy coexistence that goes pear-shaped at the beginning of the first book. (I don't particularly buy the idea that earth's population will resume booming, since there's a clear trend over the last few hundred years that population growth is negatively correlated with economic well-being, but that's not essential for enjoying the series.)

Unseen Academicals and Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett: I am slowly working my way through the audiobook editions of the Discworld as I run out of podcasts to listen to. Discworld is always amusing and often insightful in its clever yet loving parodies of all of the tropes of genre fiction, and these two books were no exception.

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson: While preparing to visit Scotland this spring, I picked up Quicksilver again. I first read the book when it first came out in 2003, but I didn't fully appreciate the book at the time; I ended up not actually making my way through The Baroque Cycle. (I did eventually pick up a discount hardcover copy of The System of the World, so I do at least a matched set of the full series on my shelf.) This time, with a better appreciation of English history (and having visited some of the key locations in the book, London and Cambridge (and the other Cambridge on this side of the Atlantic)), I got more out of the book. And it didn't hurt that I had the ebook for light reading while I was in the UK itself. I still intend to read the rest of the series before the next time I visit England.