Book Review: Glow by Tim Jordan

Cover of the book Glow by Tim Jordan
Glow
by Tim Jordan
Angry Robot, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on February 1, 2021.

Just as humankind was on the brink of reaching the stars, fueled by new biotechnology that conveys near-immortality, the Earth was almost destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. Now, a once-great corporation is clinging to power from its orbiting stations, an Earth-side alliance seeks to overthrow it, and a new kind of artificial life lurks in the dark, where nothing is as it seems. Rex is an addict of Glow—a nanotech drug—who can’t remember who he is. When he’s taken in by a sect of nuns who promise salvation, he finds himself in a conflict that could destroy all he holds dear, hunted by something not of this world. He must survive long enough to solve the mystery of his own identity. In Jordan’s impressive fiction debut, the action and pacing are taut, the characters well drawn, the conflict compelling, and the world he creates is fascinating and immersive in its detail. His world building is reminiscent of the best space opera mixed with the gritty, violent dystopia of cyberpunk. Recommended for fans of Alastair Reynolds and William Gibson.

Book Review: And Then She Vanished by Nick Jones

Cover of the book And Then She Vanished by Nick Jones
And Then She Vanished
by Nick Jones
Blackstone, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on January 15, 2021.

When Joseph Bridgeman was a teenager, his younger sister, Amy, vanished while under his supervision. She was never found and the loss tore his family apart. Twenty years later, in the midst of crippling depression, a hypnotherapy session unlocks a strange new ability: Joe discovers he can travel back in time. If he can figure out how this power works, maybe he can save his sister. Time travel is used to tell an intimate, personal story here: a tale of grief and guilt and what a loving brother will do to heal the wounds of the past. But there are moral quandaries posed by changing history and Jones doesn’t shy from that. The novel, originally self-published in 2015, offers an ending that isn’t as neat and happy as readers might expect: there’s a cost to getting what you want. Jones’ version of time travel is compelling; though the mechanism remains secret, the rules of time travel are clear. It’s a compelling set up for the next in the Downstream Diaries series.

2020: My Year in Reading


I read 41 books this past year, which is one more than the least amount I’ve read of any year since I started tracking (2014 only had 40). Honestly, this is more than I thought it would be because… well, because 2020. This was not an easy or normal year. 22 titles were assigned to me by Booklist to review.

2020 is the first year in the past six that I didn’t track my reading in depth. I kept a list of titles but I didn’t record start or end dates, or the number of days spent on each book. I explained why I chose not to keep a detailed reading list anymore in a previous post.

Now it’s time to assess: Was this a good choice?

Continue reading “2020: My Year in Reading”

Book Review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stockholm: The Adrenaline-Fueled Adventures of an Accidental Scientist by Robert Lefkowitz and Randy Hall

Cover of the book A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stockholm: The Adrenaline-Fueled Adventures of an Accidental Scientist by Robert Lefkowitz and Randy Hall
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stockholm: The Adrenaline-Fueled Adventures of an Accidental Scientist
by Robert Lefkowitz and Randy Hall
Pegasus, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on January 1, 2021.

Lefkowitz grew up wanting to be a doctor, not a scientist. But life took him down some unexpected paths and his pioneering research identifying the nature and structure of beta receptors won him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012. An avid and inveterate storyteller, he chronicles his life in medicine and science. Well on his way to becoming a cardiologist, he found himself drawn to the world of medical research, where he contributed to groundbreaking discoveries for more than 40 years, and became one of the field’s great mentors. Told with humor and humility, what shines through most is his love of stories. This book came about because of his penchant for sharing tales about his life, but he also argues for the central importance of storytelling in both patient care and scientific research: knowing a patient’s story is essential to understanding their ailments, and research data doesn’t mean anything without a story to make sense of it. His passion for science and discovery, for helping people, and for celebrating stories is infectious.

Book Review: Out Past the Stars by K. B. Wagers

Cover of the book Out Past the Stars by K. B. Wagers
Out Past the Stars
by K. B. Wagers
Orbit, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on December 1, 2020.

Hail, Star of Indrana, seeks to broker peace between the Farian and the Shen, a task made unimaginably more difficult when she meets the Farian gods and discovers they’re not what everyone has long believed. Now, an ancient, dangerous enemy is hunting them down. To preserve peace and save her empire, Hail must discover the truth behind centuries’ worth of lies and avert an all-out war. But the cost might be more than she can bear, just when she was hoping to finally put violence behind her. What makes Hail such a likable character is her obvious love for her compatriots. What makes her admirable is her unwavering commitment to doing what’s right, even when it’s not at all clear what the right choice is. The story is a compelling mix of action and politics, but Wagers’ strength is crafting character-driven science fiction, and it’s on full display. Everyone, including the villains, are complex and compelling. Relationships, both old and new, are rich. Wagers offers a well-earned, heartfelt, and hopeful conclusion to the Farian War series (which began with There before the Chaos, 2018).

Book Review: Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life beyond Earth by Avi Loeb

Cover of the book Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life beyond Earth by Avi Loeb
Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life beyond Earth
by Avi Loeb
HMH, 2021

This review was first published by Booklist on December 1, 2020.

On October 19, 2017, astronomers discovered ‘Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object to pass through our solar system. But its behavior was strange. While many hypotheses have been presented to explain its anomalies, Loeb, the longest-serving chair of Harvard’s Department of Astronomy and founder of the Black Hole Initiative, postulates the most likely explanation is that ‘Oumuamua is evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. He offers strong evidence to support this conclusion, but perhaps more valuable is how he uses this as a jumping-off point for much broader musings on the state of science. He critiques the tendency of science to be too conservative and the pernicious effects of scientific elitism toward the public. He considers the larger implications of what it would mean if we do obtain proof of other intelligent life in the universe, including the need for humanity to overcome our shortsightedness and invest in further exploration. Some of his digressions are a bit of a leap, but whether or not readers agree with him, his vision and curiosity are compelling.

Book Review: The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2020 edited by Michio Kaku and Jamie Green

Cover of the book The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2020 edited by Michio Kaku and Jamie Green
The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2020
edited by Michio Kaku and Jamie Green
HMH, 2020

This review was first published by Booklist on November 1, 2020.

The common thread in most of the works here is disaster and how one recovers from it. Disasters range from extinction-level asteroid impacts to natural disasters to accidents and illness. Works raise two questions: “How did this happen?” and “What comes next?” These questions occupy many of the writers featured here, and the exploration of the recovery process will be particularly resonant for current readers; because all of the pieces included here were published in 2019, the 2020 edition of this series feels a little like a pre-pandemic time capsule. Selected works cover everything from climate change to medicine to ecology to geology to cosmology to chaos theory: proof that any subject makes a good story in the hands of a talented writer. Also striking is the way this collection as a whole jumps through time, with articles about dinosaurs and the geological K-t boundary alongside explorations of future technology. However, the articles focused on the present are the most personal and carry the deepest emotional resonance. This series remains a must-buy for most library collections.

Book Review: How I Learned to Understand the World by Hans Rosling

Cover of the book How I Learned to Understand the World by Hans Rosling
How I Learned to Understand the World
by Hans Rosling
Flatiron, 2020

This review was first published by Booklist on November 1, 2020.

In this deeply personal memoir, Rosling takes account of his life with the goal of exploring how he came to understand the world. Most famous for his work in worldwide health data analysis as the founder of the Gapminder Institute and one of the inventors of the Trendalyzer software system which creates animated graphics of data over time, he sought to comprehend the big picture as clearly as possible, to make the best decisions about how to improve the health and living conditions of the world’s most needful. He dedicated much of his effort to correcting the common misunderstandings most Western countries have about the state of non-Western countries. Rosling began his career as a physician in Mozambique shortly after that country gained independence, and pioneered new epidemiological methods to better address the lived reality of the people he served. Over the years, he applied these same methods throughout sub-Saharan Africa, all while he and his wife raised three children and he battled cancer twice. His memoir is kind, humane, and unflinchingly honest.

Book Review: Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick by David Wong

Cover of the book Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick by David Wong
Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick
by David Wong
St. Martin’s, 2020

This review was first published by Booklist on September 1, 2020.

Zoey Ashe, still unsure how to manage her father’s massive criminal empire after the events of Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits (2015), receives a disemboweled corpse in the mail. Online trolls accuse her of being a cannibal and threaten to attack her home. A rival is growing a private security empire, which may or may not be involved in murder. When her beloved cat, Stench Machine, goes missing, Zoey is ready to tear the city apart to get it back. This may be Wong’s most timely and topical work to date, featuring incels, trolls, and the rise of private security. Wong’s trademark imagination and humor remain but it’s his grounded sense of humanity that elevates this work. Zoey is a good person in bizarre circumstances, doing her best to make the world a better place. Wong knows what makes people tick and his vision of humanity isn’t rose-colored. But he’s also fundamentally an optimist: there are solutions to the problems humanity faces. Not always neat or tidy, not always clean, but readers will feel that they—like Zoey—can stumble through.

YA/General Interest: Futuristic Violence in Fancy Suits won an Alex Award, so teen fans may come looking for its sequel.