Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Advance Reader’s Edition, HarperCollins, 2015

Recently, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an Advance Reader’s Edition of Neal Stephenson’s upcoming novel, Seveneves.

There are certain people—artists, writers, performers, musicians—who are so breathtakingly good, such absolute masters of their craft, that I can only stand in awe of their work and think:

It’s not fair. No one has the right to be this talented.

This is especially true every time I read a novel from Mr. Stephenson. Seveneves proves once again that he possesses an imagination of staggering inventiveness and scope. For him, an event that most of us would find unthinkable is where he starts the story.

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Book Review: Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow

Information Doesn't Want to Be Free - book cover
Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow
McSweeney’s Books, 2014
Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free by Cory Doctorow is, as one would expect, an incisive and lively exploration of the issues surrounding copyright and enforcement in the Internet Age.

Dr. Doctorow is established as an outspoken critic of the various methods that media corporations use to try and enforce their interpretation of copyright laws on the Internet: digital locks, DRM efforts, automated “Notice and Takedown” practices, etc. He takes on each of these methods and explains clearly what they’re intended to accomplish, why they fail, and the damage they do to creative workers and Internet users in general.

Some of these methods involve pretty esoteric computer science and Dr. Doctorow is the best in the business at translating the argot of technology into terms anyone can understand. Continue reading “Book Review: Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow”

Book Review: Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari

Chasing the Scream book cover
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari
Bloomsbury USA, 2015

I believe that Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari is one of the most important books currently on our shelves. I think most people are aware that the war on drugs has been an abysmal failure. What this book reveals about the origins and history of that war goes a long way towards explaining why.

Essentially, Mr. Hari argues that the approach we’ve taken to drugs for the past 100 years is worse than merely a failure—the war on drugs has been just about the worst possible approach we could have taken. It’s doing tremendous damage to our society. It’s the opposite of what we should be doing. Moreover, it’s a hugely hypocritical policy that ensconces deeply racist attitudes. He backs up these claims with numerous examples from the history of the drug war.

Far more important, however, is Mr. Hari’s exploration of alternatives. There are better options available to us to deal with the problem of drug use and the violence that accompanies drug culture. We already have compelling data to show that some of these alternative options actually work—options that are based on compassion, rather than vilification; healing, rather than criminalizing.

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Book Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword book cover
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Orbit Books, 2014
Cover art by John Harris

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie is less engaging than its predecessor. It’s a decent SF novel and I enjoyed reading it. But it wasn’t nearly as exciting or as compelling as Ancillary Justice.

I ended my review of Ms. Leckie’s first book with a note of confusion—it was a great novel but I couldn’t understand how it was great enough to have won all of the awards that it did. Even so, the second installment in her Imperial Radch series doesn’t live up to the expectations placed on it by that first novel.

There are two major shifts from the first novel in the series to this one:

  1. The scope of the second book is much narrower.
  2. The main character is portrayed in a very different light.

I’ll start with the changes that we see in Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen / Breq Mianaai.

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Book Review: Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn by Amanda Gefter

Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn book cover
Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn by Amanda Gefter, published by Bantam 2014

I love Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn by Amanda Gefter more than I’ve loved any book in a long time.

I first became fascinated by cosmology in third grade (no kidding, in third grade I wrote an essay for school titled, “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Cosmologist.” You can ask my mom—she still has it.) While I didn’t dedicate my life to pursuing the subject the way that Ms. Gefter has, her delight and fascination with the theories of cosmology perfectly captures my own. I know the thrill of them the same way she does.

More than any other, this book reminds me why I love this field of study.

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Book Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice book cover
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Orbit Books, 2013
Cover art by John Harris

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie has been on my “To Read” list since it swept all of the major SF awards last year. I enjoyed it tremendously.

This is old-fashioned space opera, reminiscent of the classics of the Golden Age. Unlike a lot of modern space opera (which I adore, for the record) Ms. Leckie is less concerned with the technology that makes galaxy- and time-spanning civilization possible and offers us a story focused on character and plot.

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Book Review: Everything Is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger

Everything Is Miscellaneous book cover
Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger. New York: Times Books, 2007.
The central thesis of Everything Is Miscellaneous is one with which I completely agree: digital information environments allow us to organize, access, and interact with information in new and previously undreamt ways. It allows us to transcend the limitations of physical storage and communication media, to free information to be everywhere and anywhere all at the same time.

It allows information to be whatever we need, whenever we need it. There exists more potential now to add more value, not just to information itself, but to the ways we access and interact with it. Mr. Weinberger offers us a powerful and compelling vision for our digital information world.

These three quotes perfectly sum up what this book is about:

From p. 212:

The difference in the digital order is the difference between the annoying interactions you have on a product support line… and the conversations you have with real people. … The potential for connections from the trivial to the urgent is characteristic of the new miscellany. We are busily creating as many of these meaningful connections as we can.

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