Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Club - Books I Read in 2013.

Since my first year of doing this blog in 2008, I've posted an indulgent list of books I had read during the year. Since the post do seem to be popular (in my limited world, anyway) I'm going to do it again. If your a real glutton for punishment here are links to my previous post: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. I set myself a goal to read 60 books this year and just barely made it. Here they are, in the order I read them. UPDATE: I only actually finished 57. When I wrote this I had hoped to finish the audio book I have in my car and the two sci fi novels I'm working on.

This was the 40th book in Parker's popular Spencer series. You may remember a TV show from years ago called "Spencer for Hire" based on the series. Spencer is a private detective working out of Boston. He's the kind of guy who always solves the case. This was published in 2012, after Parker's death in 2010. According to Wikipedia, the Parker Estate plans more books written, of course, by somebody else.

I am a big Neil Young fan. I own just about every record he's put out. It was natural that my daughter would give me this for Christmas last year. Since I've followed his career since the beginning I know a lot about him but there was plenty new (to me) in this book. The book will probably not appeal to the non-Neil fan but I liked it a lot. It's written in a pretty disjointed style, but once I got used to it, it became pretty easy to follow. I think Neil comes across as a bit of a jerk sometimes in the book but I think he was trying to say that, at times in his career, he was a bit of a jerk.

I read a lot of science fiction, and Reynolds is one of my favorite authors. This is the first of a new series taking place on an impoverished, but technology rich Earth, 150 years from now.

The movie featured Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman as legal adversaries in wrongful death suit involving firearms and was pretty good. The book, however, is about a lawsuit against the cigarette industry and, in my opinion, is way better than the movie.

The title almost says it all. As we learn about 100-year-old Allan Karlsson's escape from a nursing home, we also learn about his life, starting as an explosives manufacturer in Denmark. Starting in the early 1900s, Karlsson manages, to accidentally, be involved in some of the great events in world history. Quirky and enjoyable.

I generally like Greg Bear, but I didn't like this much. It concerns a small electronics company that invents a new telecommunications device that can communicate with any other similar device in the world, instantly with pure fidelity. Unfortunately, the it has tapped into the underworld (the one where dead people go) and all hell, literally, breaks out. This was an audio book which I kept at only because it was easy to listen to. If I had been reading the book I think I would not have finished it.

This is a cop series about the adventures of, Frank Coffin, the acting chief of police in Provincetown, Massachusetts. This is the 3rd book of the series which I liked well enough that I found and read the other two books.

This is the last book of the Culture series of novels written by Banks. Banks died of gallbladder cancer earlier this year. The Culture novels were a favorite of mine. Most were hard to read but well worth the effort. "The Hydrogen Sonata" refers to an unpleasant sounding piece of music that not only requires a specially build stringed instrument to play, but that the musician have 3 arms and use both feet to play it. A woman, who lives on a world about to Sublime. She has her self surgically modified and devotes her life to learning the piece. 

Our "Nameless Dectective", whose name is Bill, is semiretired now. He and his wife, Kerry, buy a cabin in the California hills and are visiting for the weekend. Kerry accidentally stumbles in the path of a local, who after years of abuse at the hands of other locals, is seeking his revenge. She gets kidnapped, and Bill, who can't get the local police interested, has to find her on his own.  I've read a few of these and they are good reads.

Ruth Rendell is a master of the British detective novel.

The first book of the Frank Coffin mysteries. Frank, a burnt out homicide detective for the Baltimore police, returns to Provincetown, and he holes, a simpler life. It doesn't work out that way.

A 'space opera' about an expedition to "The Monument", and alien artifact found orbiting another star. Can't say I really like it as whole swatches of the book didn't make a lot of sense.

A "Kathryn Dance" novel. She's a police profiler working in California. The story is about a popular singer who is being stalked on-line by an overzealous fan. This may be my last Jeffery Deaver novel. I generally like the stories (his other series is about Lincoln Rhymes, the paralyzed forensics expert in New York). Deaver has a couple of "writing" tricks, like ending chapters with cliffhangers which later turn out to be nothing, that are getting on my nerves.

David Bowie is another of my favorite musicians. Doggett tells Bowie's life by attempting to tell the story of how each of Bowie's songs came to be written and recorded. For a real fan only.

Tess Monaghan was an investigative reporter who lost her job and decided to try her hand at being a private investigator. The first book of a series. Tess has a hard time separating her private life from her work.

Another in Block's series about Matthew Scudder, the alcoholic ex-cop turned recovered alcoholic private detective in New York.

A man invents a machine consisting of some simple circuits, a three-way switch and a potato for power which gives the user the ability to time travel. The world goes nuts.

Jon Ronson is a Welsh journalist and documentary filmmaker. He wrote "The Men Who Stare At Goats" which became a film staring George Clooney. This book is a collection of newspaper articles on such diverse subjects as the Insane Clown Posse and assisted-suicide practitioners.

Another Kathryn Dance novel. The opening of this book gives you an idea of what Deaver does in his writing. Dance and a Los Angeles cop who she has been stringing along in previous books, are checking into a hotel at a resort. Lots of hits about how she's never done anything like this before and
how she hopes to not run into anyone she knows. Turns out they are meeting with a special prosecutor from LA to give evidence on a mobster. Absolutely the last Deaver book I'm reading.

A book of the near future where NASA is just a shell of it's former self. Some evidence has come to light that there was an extra, unaccounted for Apollo mission and it found "something' on the moon. An egocentric billionaire decides to build a rocket to the moon and find out. By the end of the book, I didn't really care. Too bad since these are two authors I generally like.

In the not-too-distant future, there are drugs and physical implants to make you a better human. Someone invents a drug call Nexus which greatly expands the mind. The US government is against the development and tries to squash it. With predictable unsuccessful results. This is certainly the beginning of a series, but I lost interest really before the end of the first book.

The 17th Jack Reacher book. It reminded me of why Tom Cruise was not Jack Reacher. This time, Jack is minding his own business, hitchhiking across the mid-west when he gets picked up by a car load of killers with a kidnapped woman in the back seat. Jack just can't seem to stay out of trouble. If you like the series, you'll like this one.

Another author I generally like with a poor outing. An observatory is built on the far side (get it) of the moon to look for signs of alien life. When they find it, a deep space mission is planned. But characters with poorly explained motivation are out to stop the project.

I read this book probably 50 years ago. but really couldn't remember it. I saw it on audio at the library and decided to give it a listen. Written over 60 years ago, it is still a good science fiction.

Taleb's premise is that systems need a bit of what he calls antifragility in order to survive and grow. By this he means that systems that are too perfect are subject to damage from shocks. Systems must be able to withstand some stress in order to grow. An example is how you have to stretch your muscles if you want to get stronger. It was a difficult concept and I'm not really sure I got it.

This was a pretty good sci fi which introduces a great female character named Prudence Falling. She owns and captains her own small star-ship making small deliveries between planets. Earth has long been abandoned and human space is dominated by Altair Prime. Prudence has the unfortunate luck to be present when the small human outpost of Kassa is destroyed by unknown assailants. She manages to affect some rescues of the survivors before the ships of Altair Prime clamp down on the area. Was the destruction on Kassa due to aliens that don't exist by Altair policy and did elements of the Altair nave conspire with these aliens? Good story.

As you can tell by the cover, this is a superhero comic book in novel form. The Solar System is split into three factions: Earth which doesn't want genetically altered humans; the Belt, where a lot of people are genetically and cyberneticly altered just to survive, and some even more so (the 'good' superheros of the story, called "The Troubleshooters") and a small group that believe in extreme modifications including wings, fur and anything you can think of (the 'bad' superheros).  It was totally over the top but a good read. Surely the first of a series.

The development of incandescent lighting, from Edison's laboratory to the lighting of cities and then rural areas. Freeburg makes many parallels with the modern spread of information technology.

Another book I read a very long time ago. Written in 1931, it depicts the world of 2540, when changes in reproductive technology, operant condition, sleep-learning and psychological manipulation make the world of the future very different from 1930s London. To me, it reads like someone's attempt to describe our current world as guessed at in 1931. According to Wikipedia, "Brave New World" appears on several "Best 100 books of..." lists. If you haven't read it, you should.

The novelization of the movie, written by Alan Dean Foster, who has done other Star Trek related work in the past. I actually acquired this soft-cover version of the book at a comics convention soon after the movie was released. Foster was there to autograph the books.  I'd say he did a pretty good job. It actually made some parts of the movie a bit more understandable.

Two authors I like combine to write a book (the first of a series) which I have very mixed feelings about. A ship is launched from Earth on a one-way journey to a star believed to have a planet able to support life. Most of the crew is in suspended animation for the journey. On the way they meet a giant structure in space, something like a bowl with thousands of square miles of living space on the inside and powered by a small star. Interesting concept but way too much like Larry Niven's Ringworld.

 Another near-future, sort of now novel set in a London suburb. Psychologist David Markham's ex-wife is killed in a terrorist bomb explosion in Heathrow Airport. Markham is obsessed with finding the responsible party. He eventually finds a charismatic teacher who seems to be leading a middle-class rebellion in an estate (what we might call a subdivision) in London. Markham gets drawn in, first because he want to know why is ex-wife died, then because he gets caught up in the random acts of violence the group commits.  A strange and interesting book.

Finally, after over 20 years and close to 15,000 pages, the massive "Wheel of Time" saga ends with Volume 14. Brandon Sanderson took on finishing the series when Robert Jordan died after Volume 10. I don't know if I'd recommend to anyone that they start reading the series, but if you were reading it and gave up sometime after book 9 or so, I'd say go an read this. I was satisfied with the ending.

Imagine that a disgruntled scientist invented a virus that attacked petroleum in the ground. And then imagine that this virus gets out into the wild and within a year or so, there is not more petroleum. Then imagine your an out-of-work screenwriter in LA who hears this fantastic story just after the virus escapes. That's this book. With just a little foreknowledge, Dave Marshall, the screenwriter, takes some actions which help him, his family and some friends escape from LA as the cite starts to crumble when the oil dries up. The premise was rediculus but the story of Dave's family and friends struggles was gripping.

Becker's contention is that in modern America, we treat stress as some sort of personal failing, even a disease rather than tackling the outside causes of stress such as poverty, poor diet or overwork.

This was the worse book I read in 2013. Crichton passed away in 2008. This book is apparently the result of Richard Preston taking Crichton's rough notes and turning them into a novel. A bunch of college students get shrunk down down to inches in height and abandoned in a small Hawaiian jungle. Great pains are taken to describe how such shrunken humans would survive but the over all concept was just ridiculous. Including the entire set up of how they came to be shrunk.

 Here's the premise. When you die, you awake in The Other World. Here, everyone who ever lived, has his or her own place, has all of their wants taken care of, and will live forever. It's not really heaven, there's no God about the place. It seems to be mostly run by androids. Ben Mendelsohn is sure that if he kills himself, he will be reunited with his dead wife you died a year ago. When he wakes up in The Other World, he finds out he was right, but finding her was not easy. The story jumps back and forth between Ben's attempt to find his wife and the real world, where several seemingly unconnected stories are played out. It was kind of a hard book to read but it got me interested and after awhile I needed to know how (or even if) these other stories connected. They do and it was worth the read.

I'd read Moriarty's previous books, "Spin State" and "Spin Control". This book isn't really a sequel to those books but a story in the same universe with some of the same characters. The main character, Catherine, has learned that her husband, who is really an Artificial Intelligence in a human body, was killed on a planet far away from Earth. She is convinced that he isn't really dead and that if she can get there fast enough she can somehow recover him. The only way, however, to get there fast, is to have her mind converted into some sort of particle stream which can be projected across space at much greater than light speed. It's a dangerous way to travel as you've got to hope that there is someone at the receiving end that will reconstitute you in a new body. Also, the stream can be intercepted multiple times ending up with multiple yous. This is what happens to Catherine and it's interesting to see how she becomes 2 completely different people through the story.

Nick is a young college graduate just sort of drifting through life. He bumps into Pontius J. LaBar, who runs a business consulting firm. LaBar offers Nick a job and all of a sudden Nick is a high roller. LaBar burns through enormous amounts of venture capital start-up money trying to find a business model and clients to serve. This was a funny, smart satire on modern life.

Danny Cartwright is an East-Ender with a bright future as an automobile mechanic. He's just proposed to daughter of the shop where he works and he expects to shortly be promoted to manager of the shop. While celebrating his engagement with his girlfriend and her brother, they attract the attention of a bunch of rich guys out for some fun. The girlfriend's brother ends up dead and Danny is unjustly convicted of the crime. From here on the books pretty much follows the plot of "The Count of Monte Cristo". And it got completely ridiculous.

Not the first book of the Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov, but the start of a series of popular history books of England. Written in a breezy, rather than a studious, style, the book was pretty good.

Sanderson, who finished off the Wheel of Time series, is an author in his own right. He mostly writes fantasy, which I don't much read. My daughter, who is a fan, got me to go to a Sanderson book signing where I got my copy of this signed. It's an example of what is called urban fantasy, which I'd never even heard of. It read like a superhero comic book and although I liked it, I probably won't pick up further volumes.

Johnson is espousing a future vision of a networked world, and he doesn't just mean the internet. In his future, small and large networks of people will decide the fate of nations and institutions. He uses examples like crowd sourcing and Facebook as examples. An interesting read but I'm not real convinced.

The sequel to "Old Man's War". In this universe, Earth, the most populous and impoverished of the human worlds, provides men and woman for the Colonial Union space navy. But earth has been kept largely ignorant of events in space by the Colonial Union. When the beans are spilled, Earth rebels which gives the vast alien controlled space an opening. Pretty good.

Part autobiography and part an exploration of how to write. I listened to the audio book, read by King himself (he does a great job at narrating). This book was in progress when King had his nearly fatal car accident some years ago. If you like King's writing I'd say this is a must.

I long ago gave up on Turtledove's alternate history stories. This sounded interesting. The long dormant volcano under Yellowstone park erupts with dire consequences for the country. The story follows the fate on one extended family and how they coped. I'm sorry but it was pretty terrible.

You may justly ask, if I thought the first book in this series was terrible, why did I read the second? I don't have a good answer to that. Let's just leave it that the sequel was even worst and I will not, under any circumstance, read the next volume (assuming there is one). These books got ratings on Amazon in the 2 range.

This is book #33 in the Spenser series. Spenser is hired by a grandmother who is convinced that her grandson did not participate in a shooting at a local high school where a number of kids were killed. The evidence against the kid looks pretty strong and the kid isn't talking. Spenser, who remember, also solves the case, figures it out.

I don't know DeGrasse well. I've mostly only seen him on The Daily Show. The book is apparently drawn from various writings he's done and talks he's give. His main point is that we've got to keep a presence in space and we've got to go to Mars. I agree.

Just who is Cassandra Kresnov and why had I not heard of her before. The 4th book in the series was recently published. Since it looked interesting, I found that my library had the first two but not the third. Human space is made up of two basic factions. One, The Federation, dominated by Earth, believes that artifical life is an abomination. The other, faction, The League does not and has produced androids who look entirely human but have greater strength and the capacity to digest and analyze vast quantities of information. A war between the League and the Federation has just ended, basically with a standoff although the League was greatly weakened. Kresnov was a soldier in the League, an android specifically designed to be a soldier. But unlike most of the androids, Kresnov was given higher intelligence as an experiment. After the war, the League began downsizing it's army. Since they were just machines, downsizing meant killing. When Kresnov's team is eliminated without knowledge, she defects to the Federation.  I really enjoyed this book. Lots of big ideas are discussed on what it means to be human or intelligent machine. Between the discussions are very exciting  action scenes. 

V.I. takes a young pregnant (and Hispanic) friend to a suburban hospital when the girl unexpectedly goes into labor. The girl and the baby die. V.I. is suspicious because it didn't seem that the hospital was treating the girl properly because she seemed to be poor.  In trying to understand what happened to the girl, V.I. discovers that the hospital's main concern was making profits and had acted badly in this case. The hospital manager was willing to go to great lengths, including murder, to protect his profits. Pretty good read.

Pretty good lay-person's introduction to the art and science of cardiology. I found the beginning of the book more interesting, learning about the very earliest days of map making and how the early views of the earth, centered around the Mediterranean changes as techniques improved. In my opinion, the book would have benefited greatly if it had color fold-out maps rather than printing large maps in black and white on single pages.

The second Cassandra Kresnov novel. When Cassandra defected from the League to the Federation planet of Callay, she thought she'd be able to remain anonymous.  But she was found out. By the end of the first book she was working with a police SWAT team. But people, even some on her team, were afraid of her because of what she is, an enhanced android from the enemy League. She shows her loyalty to the Federation by saving the President of Callay from an android assassination team sent by the League. As with the first book, there is a lot of action (the cover picture is from the assassination attempt) and a lot of good ideas. In the Federation, Cassandra, is afforded all the rights and freedoms of a citizen of the Federation, even though she is a machine. Even though the Federation tries to suppress the type of biotechnology that created her. She is recognized as a person. Back in the League, which embraces such bold biotechnology, Kresnov is just a machine, with no rights. Unfortunately, my library does not have the next book in the series but I put in a request for it.

You won't be surprised that this book of Ian Fleming short stories was released in conjunction with the "Quantum of Solace" movie. A number of the stories have titles which were later made into James Bond movies but the movies have no relation to the stories beyond the title and James Bond. The story "Quantum of Solace" isn't even about Bond. It's a story told to Bond by the Governor of Bahama. I got this as an audio book read by the incomparable Simon Vance. I would listen to him reading selections from the phone book.

This is the second book in a long running series about London homicide detective Tom Throrne. My library just got the latest (the 10th I think) book in the series so I decided to read the early ones first. I started with #2 since #1 was checked out. I'm a sucker for British detective fiction and I think I'm going to like this series.

This book is based on the idea that you think you're in control of your actions and feelings but actually, you hardly have any idea why you do the things you do or have the beliefs you have. I've read another book a few years ago which espoused the same idea. McRaney makes a good case. He sets up a lot of propositions, like "The Sunk Cost Fallacy". You engage in some activity you don't really like because you think that if you stop, the time or money you've already spent will be wasted. I think that's why I read the second Super Volcano book. McRaney hopes that by making you aware of this sort of thing, you'll think a little bit more and extricate yourself from a dumb act. Good luck with that.