recent books

Some stuff I've read in between hitting reload on Livejournal:

Collapse by Jared Diamond

    This covers some of the same ground as Guns, Germs and Steel (which is awesome), but where Guns was a history of how civilization progressed, this is a comparison of various societies that failed. It's pretty interesting, especially the stuff about Greenland. Basically, the Norse came to Greenland and died out, whereas the inuit who were there already continued on; he attributes this to the Norse's unwillingness to adapt to their new circumstances.

Toast by Charlie Stross

    A bunch of short stories. My favorite by far is "A Colder War", which asks, "what if the technology from Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness was recovered and played a role in WWII and the cold war?" I'm a sucker for Lovecraft sequels.

The Clan Corporate by Charlie Stross

    The sequel, or more accurately, second half of, The Family Trade, which I read last year. It's great -- but it again ends in a cliffhanger. This is what happens when you start reading serieses by authors who are not safely dead.

Accelerando by Charlie Stross

    This story follows a nerd and his family through the transition to superhuman intelligences, and first contact with aliens. It covers a long period of time, and so many of the stories feel a bit disjoint. I wasn't crazy about the ending, and it suffers from the problem that a lot of "singularity" stories do: once your protagonists are effectively immortal, with redundant backups and the ability to fork off clones of themselves, there's not a lot of room left for, well, trouble. It's hard to sympathize with the fates of people who are pretty much incapable of ever being in danger. It's doesn't have this problem nearly as badly as Schild's Ladder did, though.

The Collapsium by Wil McCarthy

    Another singularity story, and in this one, for the first 90% of the book, "peril" is replaced by "court intrigue", I guess under the theory that immortals with nothing to do would turn into Victorian aristocrats. Then the bad guy tries to kill the world. "Oh bother", says the emotionless shell of a protagonist. Ho hum.

    I now promise myself that I'm not going to read books like this any more.

The Oblivion Society by Marcus Alexander Hart

    marcus132 (the author) was kind enough to send me a copy of this, thanks! It's a Y2K-apocalypse road-trip comedy full of mutants, zombies, and giant insects. It's chock-full of jokes; not all of them work, but enough of them do to keep it moving along. As in all movies of this sort, there is an irritating character whose death you are praying for, and (as is traditional) it doesn't come quite soon enough. It's a very visual book; it feels more like a script or screenplay. It would probably make a good comic.

Cusp by Robert A. Metzger

    One day giant rocket engines grow up out of the ground all over Earth and start test-firing. OMG, someone's stealing the planet! It's a pretty cute premise, with an unsatisfying ending.

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

    One night the stars go out, because the world has been enclosed in a giant black bubble. OMG, someone's stealing the planet! This is actually the same basic intro as Greg Egan's Quarantine which I read a few years ago, but that book sucked and this one is really good. It's good because it has characters that I actually cared about and could empathise with. The technobabble of the bubble and what it's doing are pretty cool, too. And the ending is more-or-less satisfying.

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

    Wow, this book is fantastic! They're making a movie, and I hope it doesn't completely suck. It's the story of two 19th century stage magicians in a bitter rivalry; the first half of the book is the diary of one, and the second half is the diary of the other, with a small wraparound story about a descendant. It's a pretty cool structure; it doesn't quite go all Roshomon or Usual Suspects, but it makes a nice reveal. The two main characters are both nutty in interesting ways. And Nikola Tesla is in it. You can't go wrong with Tesla.

Seeker by Jack McDevitt

    A good old fashioned space opera, and frankly a god damned relief from all of the recent scifi I've read about singularities and godlike posthumans. This is set some 10,000 years in the future, humanity is spread out all over the galaxy and has near-instantanious travel, but there are still telephones and talk shows, and there's not a lot of time wasted explaining why. It's got a bit of an Indiana Jones feel in parts, in that the main characters are "antique dealers" who go out and track down archaeological artifacts from various collapsed and lost human societies. They find a old tea cup, and the logo on it leads them on a long treasure hunt toward a whole lost colony.

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