Searching for a Childhood Memory

When my siblings and I were in early grade school at the beginning of the 1980s, we discovered a strange book in the children’s section of our local public library. It was a heftier tome than we’d ever seen on the shelves, oversized and thick—close to 200 pages. Barring encyclopedias, we’d only seen books this big in the adult section or on our parents’ bookshelves at home.

But the best part was that this strange book was a comic book!

Today we’d call it a graphic novel but we hadn’t heard that term back then. We checked it out, brought it home, and each read through it a couple of times.

My memories of reading this book are difficult to properly describe: fragmentary, dissociative, surreal, and dreamlike all come close. I recall that my in-the-moment experience of reading it as a little kid was similar: surreal, dreamlike, dissociative, fragmentary. I had a difficult time keeping the narrative strung together as a cohesive whole in my head.

It was the most challenging thing I’d read up to that point in my life.

Continue reading “Searching for a Childhood Memory”

Book Review: Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension by Samuel Arbesman

Cover of the book Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension by Samuel Arbesman
Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension
by Samuel Arbesman
Current, 2016

This review was first published by Booklist on July 7, 2016.

Modern technology has become so complex that even experts can no longer understand technological systems in all their parts and workings. It frequently feels like we’re losing control of our own technological creations. Technology often behaves in ways that appear mysterious to us, the causes of effects too difficult to tease from the tangle. Arbesman explores this complexity and the limits of our ability to comprehend truly intricate systems and offers a strategy for better understanding. He argues that such complications are inevitable and that the evolution of our technology is best understood as a quasi-biological process. Biological thinking allows us to approach technological complexity in a more useful and holistic way and to accept the limits of our ability to understand it. What stands out most is Arbesman’s compelling hopefulness for the future. Caution in the face of our technology is understandable, but there’s no reason to be afraid of it. Technology can sometimes seem miraculous—yet that’s no reason to worship it. This book aims to offer us a better way forward.

Book Review: The Hike by Drew Magary

Cover of the book The Hike by Drew Magary
The Hike
by Drew Magary
Viking, 2016

This review was first published by Booklist in July, 2016.

In simplest terms, this is the story of a man, Ben, who goes for a walk in the woods, gets very, very lost, and stumbles into a fantastic and monstrously dangerous realm from which he can’t seem to escape. The bizarre, funny, and haunting narrative achieves a dream-like quality, with events that feel simultaneously random and inevitable. Magary’s writing echoes the compelling lyricism of folktales, which juxtaposes surprisingly well with his sarcastic sense of humor. More than anything else, this novel may remind readers of classic adventure computer games like King’s Quest. The main character is faced with an arbitrarily circumscribed world and limited options, and the story unfolds in ways that are strange and disturbing. Just like those old computer games, it has an addictive quality; you need to know what’s going to come next. The book stumbles a bit at the end, trying too hard to be philosophical, and there’s a last-second twist that’s harmless but also unnecessary. Otherwise, an engrossing and imaginative read.

Book Review: The Swarm by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

Cover of the book The Swarm by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston
The Swarm
by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston
Tor, 2016

This review was first published by Booklist in July, 2016.

Earth survived the attack of the first Formic scoutship. But can the heroes of that first invasion save humanity from the full fleet that’s on its way? The Swarm picks up a few years after the conclusion of the First Formic War series. Earth has begun preparing a desperate defense. The Hegemon, Polemarch, and Strategos are in place, and the newly minted International Fleet is working with corporate forces to build an armada and weapons as fast as possible. Will it be enough? And can humanity overcome the dangers posed by political machinations, careerism, international squabbles, and petty bureaucracy? The greatest threat may be ourselves. This is a solid outing, well-paced and exciting with a mounting sense of crisis, grand in scope yet human in perspective. Fans of the Ender Universe and the First Formic War series will be eager for this one—readers will find the same central characters as well as some new faces. It will be particularly satisfying for longtime fans to finally see the creation of the Battle School.