Monday, April 3, 2017

Reading List - March 2017

Lots read in March.

The on-going story of Harry Bosch, former LA detective. Harry is hired by an old rich guy to determine if he has any heirs. Apparently he impregnated a girl in his youth and now wants to find the issue. Intertwined with this story is the search for a serial rapist. Not a bad read.

This started off well. In a near-future world, technology has been perfected that allow people to 'join'. With a 'quantum' device planted in their heads, several people can basically become one mind. The story is focused on one particular join of 5 people. One of the members (or "drives" as the book describes) learns he is dying of cancer. Than another gets murdered. The book was an interesting exploration of how a person (for each join is a single person) can live with multiple perspectives. What this sort of thing means for society as a whole (not everyone is on board with doing such a thing) is also explored. I was really enjoying this until the last couple of chapters when the whole story got hijacked by a rogue plot thread and went to pieces.

A good hard SF tale. Humanity is divided into two camps, those who live on earth and have rejected genetic and physical modifications and those living on other planets who have had to adopt such things in order to survive. And of course, they are at war. A roboteer is one who has mods allowing him or her to interface directly with a spaceship systems. Only the off-Earth humans practice this. The roboteer of the title discovers an alien presence which has a dire ultimatum for humans.

This was a sequel to "Planetfall" which was about a group of colonists from Earth to a distant planet. The woman leader of this expedition, a genius of enormous intelligence, invented the technology to build a spaceship capable of the journey. The ship was called "Atlas". This book is about the child (now grown) she left behind. He is a police detective investigating the murder of a cult leader. In my experience, the 2nd book of a series is normally not nearly as good as the first, but this book was first rate, and can be read as a standalone novel.

This book was a best seller in 2005 and I always meant to read it. A friend recently recommended it to me so I picked it up. Not really a book about economics it's more a book about how data can be used to tell a story. The point being that economists use numbers and data to understand how the economy. Here, economist Steven Levitt, with the help of journalist Stephen Dubner, explore how data can answer non-economic questions. One chapter was on baby names. Can we look at how successful people became based on the name they were given as a child. Pretty typical of the explorations in the book, it was hit or miss. They did attempt to predict the most popular baby names of 2015 based on trends and failed badly.

This near-future book reads like it was written by two NASA engineers, which it was. A private space company (headed by a very wealth man but not obviously Elon Musk) launches a rocket to a near Earth orbit to nudge it into orbit around the moon so it can be mined (by his company of course). Every thing that could go wrong does. Every. Damn. Thing. In the end, another private space company run by a rich guy works with NASA and the Russians to save the day. I'm sorry I wasted my time with this.

I'm sorry to say that this was another time waster. I've read about half (of the 21) Jack Reacher stories and am generally a fan. Jack is starting to show his age and in the last book suffered a concussion which seriously affected his actions and judgement. In this book, Child returns us to 1996, when Reacher was still a major in the military police. Reacher is recruited with an elite CIA agent and FBI agent (who barely have an impact on the story) to stop a mysterious American from making a deal with Middle East terrorists. The problem with this book is that, here in 2017, we know that was no serious terrorist action in 1996, so we already know the outcome. Well, actually, that's not the real problem. The story is told in a very flat manner with all sorts of dialog that doesn't sound even remotely the way real people speak. If you're a big Jack Reacher fan you may want to (and probably already have) read this. I'd advise to give it a pass.

This is not the first Swedish detective novel I've read. Apparently Scandinavian noir is very popular. It's the 9th novel featuring Inspector Irene Huss and some backstory was involved in this book but didn't make the book hard to follow. Despite some recent stories of refugee crime in Sweden, crime there, especially murder, is pretty low. Huss works in the 2nd largest city in Sweden, Gothenburg. Based on some brief Internet investigation of my own, Gothenburg, on average, would have maybe 1 murder a year. Surly not enough to support 9 murder mysteries. There are 2 murders and 3 attempted murders in this story which takes place in the fall of 2009. If you like this sort of novel, you'll like this.

This was fun. Since, as far as we know, time travel is impossible, you'd think there'd be nothing to write about. What Gleick does here is to explore the history of time travel literature. He observes that before H. G. Wells published "The Time Machine", time travel as a concept hardly existed. Now the concept is everywhere. Even if you're not a big science fiction fan you can probably name 10 novels, books or movies that deal with time travel. He also looks at the science of time but not in any great detail. He quotes liberally from many literary sources including one of my favorite time travel movies ("Looper") and books ("How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe" best piece of advice is if you ever see yourself coming out of a time machine, run away quickly). If you're not a big consumer of science fiction, this book might not be for you.

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