Book Review: Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe by Fred Nadis

Cover of the book Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe by Fred Nadis
Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe
by Fred Nadis
Pegasus, 2020

This review was first published by Booklist on July 31, 2020.

Star Settlers is a cultural history of the human quest to conquer space. People have dreamed of travelling through the heavens for centuries, and the scientific advancements of the twentieth century have brought the possibility close to reality. Nadis seeks to understand the reasons why people want to expand out into space: as evolutionary imperative, as necessary for the survival of our species, and as spiritual quest. He traces the development of these ideas, from their earliest expressions in the seventeenth century to the present, and profiles many of the individuals and organizations who have pursued them. Some focus on colonizing Mars or the Moon, some want to build space stations, and some see humans filling entire star systems. Terraforming, ecosystem design, robots, AI, and transhumanism all have potential roles to play. The dream of space has been nurtured in science fiction, philosophy, spiritualism, and among the engineers and scientists of the Space Age. Ultimately, it’s not just a question of how we do it; it’s a question of whether we should.

Book Review: Ghost Road: Beyond the Driverless Car by Anthony M. Townsend

Cover of the book Ghost Road: Beyond the Driverless Car by Anthony M. Townsend
Ghost Road: Beyond the Driverless Car
by Anthony M. Townsend
Norton, 2020

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

Autonomous vehicles (AV) are on their way and Townsend (Smart Cities, 2013) wants readers to be prepared. AV will fundamentally change the nature of communities in ways even the most optimistic prognosticators can’t imagine. Self-driving cars won’t be the end of it: this technology opens the door to everything from intelligent hoverboards to self-driving buildings. Fleets of driverless trucks and delivery rovers will upend manufacturing, shipping, and delivery systems. Algorithmic analysis of traffic patterns can drastically reduce carbon emissions and virtually eliminate accidents. There’s tremendous potential to be tapped into that can transform the world for the better. But there’s also great danger. Technology tends to worsen social inequalities, it threatens to create ubiquitous surveillance, and the fortunes to be made could easily lead to the near-complete privatization of public space. Townsend posits a set of principles for individuals to commit to so they can take control and demand a human-focused future before it’s decided for them. Ghost Road is a balanced, well informed, and ultimately hopeful examination of AV.

Book Review: Spacecraft: 100 Iconic Rockets, Shuttles, and Satellites That Put Us in Space by Michael H. Gorn

Cover of the book Spacecraft: 100 Iconic Rockets, Shuttles, and Satellites That Put Us in Space by Michael H. Gorn
Spacecraft: 100 Iconic Rockets, Shuttles, and Satellites That Put Us in Space
by Michael H. Gorn
Quarto/Voyageur, 2018

This review was first published by Booklist on December 1, 2018.

Spacecraft profiles 100 craft that are significant in the history of space exploration: rockets, orbiters, spaceplanes, landers, space stations, satellites, and exploratory craft from the U.S., Russia, Europe, China, and more recent private, corporate ventures into space flight. The articles offer thorough physical and technical descriptions of each craft, along with a history of its development and use. The book is organized into 3 main sections, each covering a 20-year span from 1957 through 2017. Articles are further organized by the type of craft, with each country’s being grouped together. It’s not a strictly chronological narrative, but it provides an overall understanding of the history of the development and deployment of spacecraft. Readers can also use the table of contents to flip to any specific article that interests them. The articles are accompanied by numerous full-color drawings by illustrator Giuseppe De Chiara that show the details even better than the photographs do. This work is high quality; an effective hybrid of reference volume and coffee-table book. A solid choice for any public library.

Better Business through Sci-Fi? Better Futures through Storytelling

A coworker recently shared the following article with me. She knows I love SF and that I’m perennially fascinated by all things storytelling.

Better Business through Sci-Fi by Nick Romeo
(published by The New Yorker, July 30, 2017)

I admit, I do find this idea fascinating: using storytelling techniques to envision new products and services, craft new vision and mission statements, new marketing campaigns, new strategic initiatives. I’d be interested to see what, if anything, comes of it.

Continue reading “Better Business through Sci-Fi? Better Futures through Storytelling”

Book Review: Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed Our World by Andrew Ervin

Cover of the book Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed Our World by Andrew Ervin
Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed Our World
by Andrew Ervin
Basic, 2017

This review was first published by Booklist on April 15, 2017.

It’s unusual for a history of video games to feature multiple quotes from Rilke, references to philosophy and Zen Buddhism, and comparisons to great works of art. But that’s exactly what Ervin serves up to support his compelling argument: video games can be art. They can achieve the same heights of storytelling and social commentary, inspire genuine self-reflection, and promote personal and social progress, like any other creative medium. He examines what he considers the most seminal games, designers, and developments in the short history of video games. This isn’t a comprehensive history and doesn’t pretend to be. It’s a personal list—Ervin focuses on what he considers most important and his own experiences as a lifelong gamer. He’s clear about his personal preferences but does his best to understand the appeal of important games he doesn’t like. Ultimately, this is less about how video games have transformed our world and more about how they can. Ervin’s hopefulness sometimes feels naive, but that doesn’t render his faith in games any less compelling.

Book Review: Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin

Cover of the book Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin
Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy
by Jonathan Taplin
Little, Brown, 2017

This review was first published by Booklist on March 3, 2017.

Taplin urges caution in the face of our increasingly connected technology. Facebook, Google, and Amazon seem to be taking over the world. These companies are monopolies, wielding more wealth and power than any companies in history, and are even shaping laws in their own favor. He examines what motivates the men who lead these companies and discovers a frightening landscape of unchecked Randian libertarianism. His conclusion that they represent a threat to democracy itself may be hyperbolic, but it’s valuable to consider—current events may soon show whether he’s correct. Taplin also takes on the state of copyright laws and media distribution in the digital age. Here, his arguments become less nuanced. He shows little awareness of the substance of the myriad counter-arguments in the copyright debate, some of his positions are misinformed, even factually incorrect (such as his condemnation of streaming media services)—and he offers overly simplistic understandings of complex issues. But he does present a necessary challenge to conventional wisdom about modern technology and how it affects all our lives.

More Potential of Ebooks

Read my earlier posts about the potential of ebooks:


I look forward to authors exploring the ebook format as something more than just a different package for print books. Ebooks are a format, distinct from print, and can do things that print can’t, tell stories in ways that print could never accomplish.

It’s more than the obvious idea of integrating multimedia elements (but how cool would Rigg’s “Peculiar Children” books be if the images were subtle animated GIFs?). Ebooks aren’t ink on paper, which means the text doesn’t have to be permanent. The words themselves could be made changeable.

Continue reading “More Potential of Ebooks”

Book Review: Cyberbullying and the Wild, Wild Web: What Everyone Needs to Know by J. A. Hitchcock

Cover of the book Cyberbullying and the Wild, Wild Web: What Everyone Needs to Know by J. A. Hitchcock
Cyberbullying and the Wild, Wild Web: What Everyone Needs to Know
by J. A. Hitchcock
Rowman & Littlefield, 2017

This review was first published by Booklist on December 15, 2016.

This book will be a useful resource for anyone who wants to know how to deal with cyberbullying. Chock-full of examples of what cyberbullying is—each chapter opens with the story of a victim—the narrative’s greatest value is the well-informed and practical advice it offers about how to handle cyberbullies and what parents can do if their child is the one doing the bullying. The author also provides insightful analysis of what makes cyberbullying different and why it can be more harmful than other forms of bullying. The work concludes with a comprehensive list of resources and support organizations available to those who need them. Parents will appreciate the guidance. Hitchcock founded one of the first organizations dedicated to combating online abuse and is a recognized expert in the field. She approaches the subject from the perspective of her own experiences, which testifies to her authority on the subject, but at times it comes across as a bit self-promotional. However, she also interviews several other cyberbullying experts and includes their insights, making this a well-rounded resource for parents and educators.

Book Review: Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the World by Asi Burak and Laura Parker

Cover of the book Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the World by Asi Burak and Laura Parker
Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the World
by Asi Burak and Laura Parker
St. Martin’s, 2017

This review was first published by Booklist on December 15, 2016.

This book is a survey of the movement to use video games as tools to educate and empower positive social change. Each chapter dives into a specific game or media company to present the history of this movement through real-world examples. Games can be forces for good—these games have been used to foster empathy and compassion, to illuminate mutual understanding, to promote involvement in civics and science, and even to help the sick deal with illness. Lead author Burak has been a pivotal figure in the Games for Change movement. Just about all of the games profiled in this book were projects that his organization, Games for Change, was involved with in some way. This makes him biased on the subject, certainly, but it also makes him better informed about the state of social-impact games than just about anyone else. This is an insider’s perspective, and the authors make a compelling argument. Games for Change might just change the world someday. It will be exciting to see what comes next.

Book Review: The Social Organism: A Radical Understanding of Social Media to Transform Your Business and Life by Oliver Luckett and Michael J. Casey

Cover of the book The Social Organism: A Radical Understanding of Social Media to Transform Your Business and Life by Oliver Luckett and Michael J. Casey
The Social Organism: A Radical Understanding of Social Media to Transform Your Business and Life
by Oliver Luckett and Michael J. Casey
Hachette, 2016

This review was first published by Booklist on November 1, 2016.

Luckett and Casey are established authorities in the world of social media. If anyone can help us understand this digitally connected world, it’s them—and they don’t disappoint. They propose that the best way to comprehend the nature of social media is through the model of the seven characteristics of biological life. The book offers a deeply informed and nuanced portrait of the social-media landscape, supported by numerous examples. Although the outlook is hopeful, the authors clearly recognize the pitfalls and dangers social media presents and argue that we must guide its development if we want to make it better. The title implies that this will be a practical how-to manual for anyone who wants to take advantage of social media. It’s not. This is an overarching theory of social media, spanning disciplines from biology to anthropology to business to computer science. Whether or not you agree with their vision for what social media can be and do, this work offers a compelling model to understand what social media is.