Books - 2013

Books I Have Read In 2013

The Separation by Christopher Priest

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, although I was a little disappointed by the ending which didn’t make any attempt to pull all of the book’s many complicated strands together. It made a lot more sense after I did some research reading about the book on the internet. Prior to starting to read the book I deliberately avoided reading anything about it. With hindsight, I think it may have helped me to understand it a little better if there had been a few things I’d known up front. That said, I thought the book was beautifully written and I’ll definitely be reading some more of the author’s works in the future, in addition to the ones I have already read.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

I was a little disapponted by this book. It’s a huge book and felt like a bit of a slog at times. The characters get themselves into improbable situations, then extricate themselves from said situations via equally improbable and/or coincidental means. Writing a whole novel about jihadists with no apparent motivation (or plan) seems a bit lazy, especially when their only connection with the plot comes about as being neighbours of the people the lead characters are actually looking for.

All My Sins Remembered (Gollancz S.F.) by Joe Haldeman

While I enjoyed reading this book, I felt I missed out on the profound philosophical meaning that some of the amazon reviewers seem to have picked up on. It was good traditional old-school science fiction but I’m afraid I didn’t get anything much deeper than that.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross

In direct contrast to the previous book on this list, this one is bang up to date, full of theme-of-the-moment sci-fi. Jam packed with cultural tropes lifted from the seediest corners of the internet. It’s well written, nicely paced and makes great use of the concepts it introduces to the readers. I was impressed at how convincingly it extrapolates technology forward into the very near future.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

More science fiction - this time with a bit of a Steampunk flavour. I found myself really getting into this book. The author paints a consistent and beliveable world, despite the complete physical implausibility of many of the technological concepts described. I found the device of a talking “ghost” character rather annoying but thankfully he doesn’t appear often, and frankly doesn’t really have much to offer in his ghost form anyway. It left me wondering whether or not the ghost was the result of a bit of re-writing and a character death that was originally meant to happen later in the book.

Puzzler’s Dilemma by Derrick Niederman

A fun look at some of the thinking behind the creation and solving of some classic puzzles. While I enjoyed reading this, I found that I lost attention part way through, then didn’t pick the book back up for a few weeks. It finished on The Monty Hall problem, which while it may be “classic”, I think is also very much “done to death”.

Uplift: The Complete Original Trilogy (Uplift Omnibus Book 1) by David Brin

I read the first book in the trilogy for my first meeting with The Science Fiction Book Club. Since I enjoyed both the meeting and the book, I proceeded to read the second book in the trilogy. I enjoyed that, too, although it started to drag a little towards the end, so I’ve put reading the third book on hold. The first book, Sundiver, at first appears to be a light and breezy space adventure whodunnit, but on closer inspection contains the seeds of some deep and thought provoking ideas about society.

Ammonite (S.F. MASTERWORKS) by Nicola Griffith

Another Sci-fi Book Club book. Took me a while to get into this one. It wasn’t really what I was expecting from the description on the back of the book. Didn’t help that lately a lot of my reading has been happening in small bursts between stops on the underground. By the end, though, I felt thoroughly involved in the story. Even invested enough to be a shade disappointed by the slightly inconclusive ending.

Working Effectively with Legacy Code by Michael C. Feathers

I felt I was long overdue a read of some technical books, so I’ve renewed my Safari Books Online membership. I started with this one as by the author’s definition of “Legacy Code”, everything I work with in my day job is “Legacy Code”. Sadly, even the new stuff. Although this is an excellent book, I sense that implementing the techniques where I work will be a steep uphill struggle.

Inverted World (S.F. MASTERWORKS) by Christopher Priest

Probably my favourite book so far this year. This is a simply perfect science fiction story. Gradually a strange inverted world is revealed to us, and yet by the end of the book it all makes sense. Top tip - avoid the introduction in the Kindle version of the book as it contains way too many near-spoilers.

The Children of Men by P.D. James

As I started to read this book it seemed familiar and I wondered if I had read it before. It turned out I hadn’t but that I had seen the film. However, although I only have vague recollection of the film, I’m pretty sure it was very different from the book. I found this to be very well written and thoroughly enjoyed the way the characters develop.

Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship by Robert C. Martin

Another must-read for computer programmers. Can’t say I agreed with everything in this book, and I found some of the examples towards the end a little long-winded. However, it gave me plenty to think about and I’m sure my coding can only improve as a result.

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

I thoroughly enjoyed this evocative tale of life on a strange planet lit only by bio-luminescence, told through the eyes of the primitive hunger/gatherer human descendents of the first humans to inadvertently end up stranded there. I liked the way the back-story was slowly revealed through the Family’s lore, especially the way the inhabitants’ unique speech patterns managed to convey their character - and without getting annoying as in so many other books where the author attempts to give the characters an accent.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

I’d been wanting to read some Neil Gaiman for ages and this book was worth the wait. The writing is clever, witty and there’s a fun modern fantasy story in there, too.

The Quarry by Iain Banks

A sadly disappointing final parting shot from the (normally) great Iain Banks. Featuring vacuous interchangeable stereotypical middle class characters and a predictable plot. The missing video cassette improbably turns up exactly where you think it will and worse, contains pretty much what you think it is going to contain. The annoying characters rant a bit more, nothing gets revealed and then it all fizzles out and ends. Banks fits his piece in about how superstitious people find it hard to speak ill of the dead. I can only think that’s why this book has so many stars on amazon - I’m feeling guilty even as I type this.

London Under by Peter Ackroyd

A Christmas present that I finally got round to reading, this is a short, easy read about the history of London’s Underground. That is, everything under the ground, not just The Underground, although that’s exactly where I read most of it. The book has some fascinating factlets sprinkled throughout its pages but I found it frustratingly sort on details and didn’t really get into the author’s semi-poetic style.

The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach

Yet another highly ranked candidate for my favourite novel of the year. I’d describe this as a cross between science fiction and fairy tale. It is beautifully written (and translated) and sets up all of the pieces for a curious mystery story, told through short story character vignettes. Contains some surprisingly dark moments.

Solar by Ian McEwan

More darkness - set on Planet Earth this time! This book features a well-portrayed, though somewhat unlikeable character, whose life slowly unravels as the book progresses.

Pompeii by Robert Harris

This was a light enjoyable read, that I’d probably not have picked for myself. Luckily a friend gave me his copy. It feels like the author has done his research into the period and has woven a fun adventure/mystery story around the Pompeii theme. One little warning, though - despite the title, the volcano doesn’t actually erupt until well over three quarters of the way through the book.

Hyperion (GOLLANCZ S.F.) by Dan Simmons

There are very few books that I have read more than once, but this is one of them. It is an epic space opera, modelled on “The Canterbury Tales”. Even though it is a dauntingly thick book, I read through it in no time, and found myself getting thoroughly involved in the world it created.

Understanding Computation: From Simple Machines to Impossible Programs by Tom Stuart

An enjoyable look at some deep computation theory, with worked examples in the Ruby programming language. This book gets quite technical but the examples really help. I found some of the content familiar from my computer science degree but it was nice to have everything pulled together into a coherent whole.

The Not Yet by Moira Crone

The Turing Test by Chris Beckett

The Hydrogen Sonata: A Culture Novel by Iain M Banks

Be a Free Range Human: Escape the 9-5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills by Marianne Cantwell

Skagboys by Irvine Welsh

Light (Kefahuchi Tract Trilogy) by M. John Harrison

Halting State by Charles Stross

Game Coding Complete by Mike McShaffry

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood