Mon Nov 02 2020 22:03 Pandemic Reading Roundup:
While stuck at home over the past few months I've tried all sorts of things to keep occupied: eating food, sleeping, even working on a novel. But I've also made a lot of progress going through my backlog of books. I thought I'd give mention a few of these highlights.
- The Centauri Device (M. John Harrison, 1974): Reading this book was like discovering an uncle I didn't know I had. This is the origin of modern space opera, clearly a huge influence on Banks and (this is more of a guess) even Hitchhiker's Guide, and it's done as a takedown by someone who clearly thinks the whole thing is ridiculous. Spaceships with goofy names, meaningless space battles... The fact that it's incredibly depressing didn't bother me, because the author isn't taking it seriously so why should I?
- Pinpoint: How GPS is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds (Greg Milner, 2016): Interesting history on the same level of technical detail as Milner's phenomenal Perfecting Sound Forever. Plenty of good military-industrial-complex gossip.
- Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About (Donald Knuth, 2001): A gift from a friend that got lost behind my bookshelf and stayed there for years. This was really nice to read, maybe because I'm not religious at all. I love Knuth's 3:16 project and it's great to hear him go into detail about his process and what he learned about the Bible while working on it.
- A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons (Ben Folds, 2019): My favorite kind of celebrity autobiography is where they just tell you a bunch of stories about their life. The best book in this genre will probably always be Peter Falk's Just One More Thing, but this one's pretty good. Feel free to suggest your favorites; always looking for more of these!
- Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons and Dragons (Michael Witwer, 2015): On the other hand, the lack of original research makes this biography read like a Wikipedia article, and there's also fictionalized dramatizations, like you'd get in a biopic. Two types of biography I find much less enjoyable than "celebrity tells stories", and furthermore two that pull the book in incompatible directions. However the subject matter is really interesting. I admit I was pulled in by the incredible cover art, something that basically never happens to me.
- Russian Spring (Norman Spinrad, 1991): An entertaining near-future sci-fi story that extends the Cold War into the 21st century, undone by one fatal error: it refers to UCLA as the home of the Trojans. The correct answer is, the Bruins. [taps note cards] The Bruins.
- Collision Course (Barrington Bayley, 1974): A brilliant concept (Earth as the focus of two timelines going in opposite directions) and a creepy setting can't make up for a cheesy plot. Mentioning this one solely for the, again, brilliant concept, and the alien with the mind-bending pronouns.
- Not quite done with A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth, 1993), but I'm nearing the end and I don't think the last 150 pages are going to change my mind: this is a really, really fun book. Ever since I've known Sumana this has been one of her favorites, and it's good to be able to get her references. I've been moseying through it over the past... couple of years... but recently picked up the pace because once I finish it we can watch the BBC miniseries that just came out. Yes, they made a whole miniseries while I was reading the book. PS to Seth: you can finish A Suitable Girl! We believe in you!
|Unless otherwise noted, all content licensed by Leonard Richardson|
under a Creative Commons License.