What I’ve Been Reading

It has been a long time since I’ve posted one of these, and I’ve probably forgotten some things, but here goes.

I bought a Kindle last year. It’s something I’ve been interested in since they came out, but couldn’t get around to coughing up the dough until I saw a used one for sale in the classifieds at work.  Discount price = quick action!

I’ve been re-reading some old favorites plus a few new things to try out the Kindle, but also still reading some real books.  Overall I like the Kindle, though with the jacket on it’s a little too heavy for reading on my back.  I will continue using it, but it’s not going to replace paper books any time soon.


Iain Banks: Surface Detail

A pretty straight-up Culture novel.  As enjoyable as any other, and thus recommended reading.  One of the two main conflicts driving the plot was the use of virtual reality hells to torment uploaded “sinners”, where sin is defined by those who design the hell and pay for the server capacity to run it.

This is something that had never occurred to me before.  I always considered the obvious implementation of uploaded environments to be one of complete freedom – every individual should be free to orchestrate their private VR environment however they want, and design their perceptions of others and of the outside world however they want.  I hadn’t thought of how horrible it could be if we allowed others to dictate the experience inside.  We must prevent this from happening.


Kathleen Ann Goonan: Queen City Jazz

Did Not Like.  It sounded interesting because it was a journey story set in a post-apocalyptic world that had been transformed by a combination of a celestial event and a flawed transformation of cities and lifeforms via nanotechnology and genetic engineering.

It ended up feeling kind of muddy in my mind.  There are some stories where the descriptions of things are kind of murky, and the author (intentionally or not) does a good job of conveying the confusion and uncertainty of the protagonist, and this is one of them.  I generally don’t like that.


Larry Niven: The Ringworld Engineers, The Ringworld Throne, and Ringworld’s Children

I’ve read them all before, but a very long time ago and the opportunity arose.  I didn’t bother re-reading Ringworld itself because I’ve read that one often enough to remember it well.  The later three, though, I had mostly forgotten and quite enjoyed refreshing my memory of.


Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner: Betrayer of Worlds, Juggler of Worlds, Destroyer of Worlds, and Fate of Worlds

This five-book series (I read the first volume a while back) is probably the best of the many good cases of Niven letting other authors play in his sandbox.  Together they’ve done an amzing job of knitting together many of the disparate threads from earlier Known Space novels and short stories, into one contiguous and consistent tale of what happens, when humans, Puppeteers, Pak and a young but super-intelligent species butt heads.

There’s a lot going on here.  The Puppeteers, by virtue of their fundamental cowardice combined with a major technological advantage, are extremely dangerous to just about everyone.  They’ve been manipulating other species, including humans, to try to head off future dangers to themselves.  When they discovered that the core of the galaxy was exploding and a major radiation wavefront would be coming along in ten thousand years or so, they started fleeing the galaxy, taking their planets with them.

But now the highly intelligent and very warlike Pak are also fleeing the core explosion and catching up with the Puppeteers from behind.  While ahead, a young species with an amazing capacity for learning is emerging at a rate that could prove a threat, and human interference has prevented the Puppeteers from mitigating that threat as they normally would, through sabotage or extermination.

What’s a civilization of cowards to do?  Why, turn for help once again to the humans they’ve been been tweaking for luck and paranoia all this time…

I thoroughly enjoyed this series, and it’s must reading for anyone who likes the Known Space universe!


A. Merritt: The Metal Monster

A childhood favorite that I had mostly forgotten.  Upon re-reading, I’m amazed at the ideas it contains.  This story was first serialized in 1920, but it describes (using Vernian language) what today we would call minds in a computer substrate or natural machine intelligences, possibly including nanotechnology.

The antiquated and excessively flowery and voluminous descriptions combined with concepts that have relatively recently become common in science fiction create a delightfully clashing combination – old and new at once.


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