Booklist Backlist: Keeping Up with Science

This list was first published by Booklist on March 1, 2022.

The past several years have delivered one of the most exciting periods of scientific discovery in the modern era. New technologies have fostered fresh revelations that upended old understandings. Biology, evolution, psychology, sociology, cosmology, climatology: all these fields and more are expanding in fascinating and compelling directions. These past years have also seen a proliferation of science books written for popular audiences. This is a wonderful time to dive in and learn!

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Book Review: Never Panic Early: An Apollo 13 Astronaut’s Journey by Fred Haise and Bill Moore

Cover of the book Never Panic Early: An Apollo 13 Astronaut's Journey by Fred Haise and Bill Moore
Never Panic Early: An Apollo 13 Astronaut’s Journey
by Fred Haise and Bill Moore
Smithsonian, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on March 1, 2022.

“Never panic early” is learned by military pilots to stay calm in moments of crisis. This advice served Haise well over the course of his 40-plus years career. Most famous as one of the three Apollo 13 astronauts and their aborted moon landing, he also worked as a test pilot in the Marine Corps and as a NASA test pilot, and he was a member of the four-person test-pilot team to fly the first space shuttle, Enterprise. While at NASA, he served as CapCom for Apollo 14, was assigned to several backup crews, worked the closeout crew to prepare for Apollo 8 and 11, acted as a technical advisor on various projects, and even completed Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program. He eventually went to work as an executive for Grumman Aerospace. This memoir eschews self-revelation in favor of a focus on the work. It’s dense with detail of the day-to-day reality of being a Marine pilot, engineer, and astronaut, filled with acronyms and technical jargon. It’s a down-to-Earth counterpoint to the typical dramatizations about the space race.

Book Review: The Observer Effect by Nick Jones

Cover of the book The Observer Effect by Nick Jones
The Observer Effect
by Nick Jones
Blackstone, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on February 25, 2022.

After the events in London, Joseph Bridgeman is beginning to feel more comfortable in his new life, but there are still unanswered questions: What is the Continuum? Who is Scarlett? And how does his sister fit into all this? When Bridgeman is contacted by the Continuum, it sends him to Paris in 1873, alongside a partner who’s not happy to be saddled with him, to save the life of a missing agent. This entry is the series’ most exciting and well-paced yet, pulling the reader along at just the right speed without making them feel jumbled. Jones formalizes the time travel mechanics he created in The Shadows of London (2021) while introducing more complexity and unknowns. He reveals more about the Continuum and Scarlett while leaving enough unanswered questions for subsequent novels. Jones has found his stride: his writing style is more assured now and he renders his characters more fully and naturally. He’s gotten better at integrating exposition without slowing down the plot. This third entry sets up a strong premise to sustain the series long term.

I Think I Should Get Rid of My Books

I’m thinking about getting rid of most of my books. I’ve been considering this idea for some time now. I look at my bookshelves at home and wonder what good all these books are doing. I’m never going to reread the overwhelming majority of them. There are some books I own that I’ve never read and I really don’t think I ever will at this point. They’re just sitting there.

What good is a book that’s not being used? *

How much good could my books do if I gave them away? Organizations like library friends’ groups could use them to fundraise. Used bookstores could put them into the hands of people who’ll actually read them. Various social support agencies are always looking for reading material for their clients.

It starts to feel selfish of me to hoard books that I’m not reading. That, in all likelihood, I’ll never read again.

It’s worth examining why I collected all my books in the first place.

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Pandemic: Stress, Anxiety, Fear & Uncertainty

It’s 7:30 a.m. on a weekday and I’ve been awake for half an hour. My phone dings with a new text message: A staff member reporting they’re sick and won’t be in today. So begins the scramble to find last minute coverage for their shift.

This used to happen maybe once or twice a month, a few times a year.

It happens multiple times a month now, sometimes multiple times in a single week. Some have symptoms or a positive test and need to quarantine, some are waiting for test results, some are simply worried about a possible exposure and don’t want to risk exposing coworkers. Scheduling has become incredibly unpredictable and coverage is stretched thin.

It’s gotten to the point that I wake up every morning with a low-key dread sitting in my stomach, waiting for my phone to ding. I have a visceral anxious reaction every time it does.

I didn’t used to have this reaction.

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2021: My Year in Reading

I read 57 books in 2021, which is surprising, given that I didn’t want to read all that much this year and went weeks at a time without cracking open a book.

I also started watching more TV this year. My TV watching has been abnormally low for the past few years—partly due to being distracted by the internet and partly due to self-consciousness and a reluctance to watch stuff by myself. I’ve always been this way: I don’t like using the TV to watch stuff no one else in the house is interested in. I love watching with other people, I’m just not comfortable using a shared TV to watch things only for me.

So this year, we set up a second TV in our back room where I can go watch by myself without worrying about it. It’s also a smart TV, so I can stream YouTube full screen and Bluetooth connect my noise cancelling headphones to it. (First world solutions for first world problems.) I spent a good amount of time catching up on some of the shows I’ve missed, which is nice.

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Book Review: Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina Rather

Cover of the book Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina Rather
Sisters of the Forsaken Stars
by Lina Rather
Tor.com, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on January 1, 2022.

The Sisters of the Order of St. Rita are on the run in a new ship, hiding from the Earth Central Governance after the tragic events at Phoyongsa III. Their new Mother Superior is wilting under her new responsibilities, everyone is on edge, and no one knows what to do next. Then a new postulant requests to join the order, a sister’s past catches up to her, and the seed of anti-Earth revolution begins to blossom as rumors of the sisters’ actions spread through the outer systems. The sisters must decide their next move or have it forced on them. At the core of this story lies the struggle to maintain faith in the face of betrayal and disillusionment. People hide secrets, which change who they seem to be. The call to welcome strangers with open arms can present grave dangers. The desire for safety opposes the responsibility to act. Finding a path through the morass, a way to do the right thing, is complicated and messy. Rather’s follow-up to Sisters of the Vast Black (2019) is a deeply honest and empathic parable for our times.

Book Review: The Shattered Skies by John Birmingham

Cover of the book The Shattered Skies by John Birmingham
The Shattered Skies
by John Birmingham
Del Rey, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on January 1, 2022.

Commander Hardy, Admiral McClennan, Seph, Princess Alessia, and their crews struck a decisive blow against the Sturm, but the war is just beginning. Humanity in the Greater Volume has been decimated, and the group is left searching for survivors to build an army to stand against an overwhelming enemy. But the Sturm may not be the most dangerous foe they face, as human greed and shortsightedness threaten to scuttle alliances before they can even start. The second entry in Birmingham’s Cruel Stars series (after The Cruel Stars, 2019) boasts all the best elements of its predecessor: absorbing conflicts with high stakes and believable antagonists, complex characters with rich relationships and effective emotional depth, and Birmingham’s magnificent world building. Whereas the first book was slightly marred by its overreliance on coincidence to set up the climax, that’s not the case this time, which makes it the stronger tale—and readers will be left craving the next one. This is a delightful military space adventure that runs at full tilt.

Book Review: Mickey7 by Edward Ashton

Cover of the book Mickey7 by Edward Ashton
Mickey7
by Edward Ashton
St. Martin’s, 2022

This review was first published by Booklist on January 1, 2022.

Expendables die. A lot. They’re people whose bodies and minds are stored and replicated as often as necessary. They do the deadly jobs that no one else can do. Mickey Barnes, an amateur historian and layabout, signed up to be an Expendable on a new colony ship to get away from some problems on his home planet. Now on his seventh incarnation, he’s left for dead on a mission on his new planet, but he survives—and now there are two of him. Duplicates aren’t allowed, though, so they need to hide their dual existence. And Mickey7 is the only one who knows that the local life-forms are sentient, and only he can avert an all-out war. Mickey7 is a fast-paced, character-driven, amusing romp of a tale. The concept is compelling and well developed, along with the backstory of how humanity spread out among the stars. Ashton crafts interesting characters and lets their relationships take center stage, and his world building is solid. This is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys smart and funny science fiction.