Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Archive for the 'Recommended Reading' Category

Recommended Reading: Sea of Rust

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

I was looking at cover art — and searching out cover artists — when the cover of Sea of Rust, by artist Dominic Harman caught my eye at I hadn’t heard of the novel before that, I hadn’t read any reviews, but when I read the excerpt I knew I wanted to read more. Unfortunately, the ebook was priced at $14.99 which is far outside the range I am willing to pay so I moved on to something else. Then not to long ago I found the ebook on sale and happily picked it up.

Sea of Rust is a robot novel, meaning it’s about sentient robots with agency. So much agency that robots deliberately hunted down the human species and drove us to extinction thirty years prior to the start of the novel. Since then, robots have pretty much fucked over the world even worse than their human progenitors did before them. The “Sea of Rust” is a vast area of industrial ruins in Ohio and neighboring areas. When robots reach the end of their functional lives they are cast out of settlements and wander off to spend their last days in the Sea. Enter Brittle, our first-person protagonist, who gets by through hunting these nearly gone “404s” and harvesting whatever parts they have that might still be used.

The author does a terrific job with characterizations although I feel I have to add a caveat — the robots are essentially human personalities in mechanical bodies. This worked for me because it made the story very relatable.

Per usual, I’m not going to go any further into the plot. Suffice to say that Sea of Rust starts out as a sort of robot-cyberpunk-dystopian story, indulges in some impressive action sequences as the stakes rise, and ultimately grapples with philosophical issues about life and the meaning of existence. I really enjoyed it and recommend it highly.

Here’s a link to Amazon.

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Recommended Reading:
Gunpowder Moon

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

Gunpowder Moon
by David Pedreira

It’s been almost thirty-one years since my first published story, and Gunpowder Moon is the first novel I’ve blurbed. 🙂

It’s customary in publishing to send out pre-release copies of upcoming novels to other writers who might be willing to take a look at the work and offer supporting testimony if the novel works for them. I send out copies of my own work of course, and I’m very grateful to those who have taken the time to read my work and compose a blurb on it.

The more successful and well known you are as a writer, the more of these requests you can expect to receive. I don’t receive many and oddly, most are not in my genres. Also, I always have a long list of novels and stories that I’m already trying to read or that I’ve been asked to read, so — like most writers do — I promise to try, but with the caveat that I might not get to the book in time. All right, I admit. I’m not well organized and I’m a notoriously slow reader.

Happily, Gunpowder Moon was exactly the sort of novel I was looking for — near-future, hard science fiction, with excellent writing in the opening chapter that hooked me right away — and it arrived at just the right time so that I was able to read it.

Gunpowder Moon takes place after the “Thermal Max,” the peak point of global warming which has delivered a body blow to civilization from which the Earth is struggling to recover. Helium-3 has become the most important source of energy. It’s being mined on the Moon and used to power fusion reactors on Earth, but competition for lunar resources is heating up. When a miner is murdered, the fallout looks likely to lead to war, unless former Marine Caden Dechert, now commanding a lunar mining station, can find a way to avert hostilities.

Here’s my quote:
“In Gunpowder Moon, David Pedreira has crafted an excellent near-future thriller. This one’s got it all — realistic technology, an all-too-believable political conflict, and characters to care about — in a fast-paced story set amid the moon’s austere beauty.”

David Pedreira’s Gunpowder Moon is out today. The ebook is a reasonable $9.99. Check it out!

Here’s a link to Amazon.

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Recommended Reading: Two Political Memoirs

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

I listened to two audiobooks over the busy days of December and early January. Both were political memoirs.

For much of my reading life I’ve found it difficult to focus on memoirs or biographies. I would start eagerly but rarely did I manage to read them all the way through, perhaps because I’d get distracted by the latest novel. This problem doesn’t exist when I listen to audiobooks. Having someone read to me a fascinating narrative while I’m doing dull tasks like kitchen work or gardening is such a privilege, and I have no problem at all paying attention through to the end.

What Happened by Hillary ClintonThe first of the memoirs I listened to was Hillary Clinton’s What Happened. Written and also narrated by Hillary, it’s an excellent review of both the high points and the travesties of the 2016 election, from the perspective of an extremely intelligent, competent candidate with an amazing resume and record of doing good in the world. It’s also the voice of a woman who is ready to call out misogyny in the electoral process. If you’re a fan of Hillary Clinton you might want to read this book, although there’s a risk you’ll be plunged into despair all over again when you consider what exists in the White House now. If you’re not a fan of Hillary than I highly recommend that you read or listen to this book. Perhaps you will begin to change your mind.

Promise Me, Dad by Joe BidenThe second memoir is Joe Biden’s Promise Me, Dad, and it’s also narrated by its author.

In 2013, Beau Biden — Iraq War veteran, attorney general of Delaware, and son of Vice President Joe Biden – was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died of his cancer less than two years later. Promise Me, Dad tells the story of those years, from the point of view of a very active and effective United States Vice President, who — at his son’s request — helped to keep Beau’s illness a secret until very late in the course of his disease. It’s a touching story of the Biden family, and also of Joe’s view of his role in government and the tasks that he worked hard to accomplish even as his beloved son was fighting for his life. It was the grief of Beau’s loss that kept Joe Biden from running for president in 2016.

Since the election – and since we’ve had to endure the venality and incompetence on full display in this administration and in the GOP Congress that continuously supports it – I’ve often found myself reflecting on Beau Biden, and thinking, “If Beau hadn’t died, there’s a good chance that Joe Biden might be the president right now, and how much better off we’d be if that were so.”

In any case, both Hillary and Joe would have made fine presidents. Both had the experience, competence, and work ethic that the job requires, as well as a devotion to national service. Yes, let’s remember that politicians are supposed to be serving their country.

As the saying goes, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” Maybe we do deserve this, but I desperately hope we can manage to throw the bums out before they succeed in burning the country down. Let’s strive to keep this democracy tottering on long enough to install actual competent, knowledgeable people in both Congress and the White House.

The Subtle Art

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

You’ve probably seen this book around. It’s classified as a self-help book. I read an excerpt from it sometime ago and liked what the author had to say, but I felt like I’d already applied a lot of his principles in my life, so I didn’t pick it up.

Recently though, the subject of the book came up again so I decided to listen to the audiobook — and I really enjoyed it! It’s profane but humorous, it tells engaging stories to illustrate its points, and the narrator is excellent.

“Not Giving a F*ck” in this context is about seizing the power to choose what you “give a fuck” about. In other words, making the choice only to care about the things that really matter in life and “Not Giving a F*ck” about the rest of it, or about what others think of your choices. Of course there’s a lot more to it, including an interesting discussion of entitlement and a chapter on the effect of social media on our psyches. If you’re looking for a relatively short, smart, and humorous listen, check it out.


Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

On Twitter someone recently asked, What book has changed the way you see the world?

I’ve just finished reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus — and it’s been that kind of book for me.

Written by Charles C. Mann and originally published in 2005, 1491 presents a view of the Americas before Columbus that is in sharp contrast to what most Americans my age learned in school.

This is a fascinating, well-researched, and well-written book. I’d read articles and extracts based on it, but the details included in the full text really drive home the author’s main points:
• that the indigenous population of the Americas before Columbus was much higher, diverse, and sophisticated than has traditionally been believed;
• that between the arrival of Columbus and the settlement of what would become the American colonies, disease swept through both North and South America, decimating these once-large populations and wiping out civilizations;
• that because of this, North America only appeared to be a “virgin continent” and relatively unpopulated;
• that Indians** acted as a “keystone species” essentially engineering much of the landscape to suit their needs — for example, burning off the undergrowth in New England forests, modifying land for agriculture, encouraging the growth of nut-bearing and other useful trees, and discouraging the proliferation of species that competed for these resources.

What we think of today as North American wilderness and the “primeval” Amazon are both, in large part, recent phenomena, existing only since disease eliminated indigenous cultures.

This is compelling stuff on so many levels. First and most obviously, that many millions of people died of disease — up to 95% of the population by some estimates – and hundreds (thousands?) of cultures simply vanished.

Apocalypse is a popular topic in science fiction. What happens to a culture when 95% of its people suddenly die off? Nothing works after that. Technology, history, the complex network of human interaction that allows food to be grown and goods to be produced and traded simply vanishes. Those few who are left will be left with very little and no real means to replace what was lost. Mann uses the phrase “Holmberg’s Mistake” to describe the conclusion of an anthropologist who studied a “primitive” Amazon tribe and came to believe that these people had lived thus for thousands of years, not considering the possibility that they were the descendants of a handful who survived a real apocalypse. (more…)

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Set in the 1990s, Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders is the story of a family of psychics who live in the Chicago area. I’d heard it was really good and, wanting to try something different, I listened to a sample of the audiobook — and decided at once to pick it up. I’m so glad I did.

This is a terrific novel. It’s amazingly well plotted, the characterization is fantastic, it’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s utterly engaging. The narrator, Ari Fliakos, does a fantastic job. As is usual for me, I won’t try to describe the plot, but you can check it out at Audible.

I hope Spoonbenders proves to be a huge success for Daryl. He deserves it.

Highly recommended!

This is the first novel by Daryl Gregory I’ve read. I’m looking forward to reading more!

October by China Mieville

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

I decided I needed to read some China Mieville–or more accurately, listen to some China Mieville–so I looked over the offerings at Audible and ended up with a new NON-fiction book: OCTOBER: The Story of the Russian Revolution.

The narration was excellent and I found the history fascinating, although it did include a lot of names I couldn’t always keep track of. Despite this, OCTOBER feels like it captures a good sense of the times, and serves as a great introduction for those of us unfamiliar with the history. Find it at Audible.

Since I’m too lazy to acquire a cover image, I’ll just post this tweet: 😉

American Gods

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods not too long after it was first published. With all the publicity surrounding the television series — which I haven’t seen yet — it seemed like a good time to revisit it. This time, instead of reading, I listened to the audiobook edition. In summary: Highly Recommended!

The audiobook is full cast. Different narrators read different voices, and Neil himself contributes some of the interludes. I advise you not to be in a hurry as you listen to it. It’s a long and complex story populated by many characters. The epilogue — also long — is structured to remind us of those many characters and also serves as a lesson in how to effectively tie off plot threads one by one.

Not a complaint, just a wry observation:
Our protagonist, Shadow, is described as a young man, big and tall, with long dark hair. For me, one of the peculiarities of the audiobook was that Daniel Oreskes, who voices Shadow, sounds a lot like Vin Diesel. Now, Vin Diesel has a fine voice and so does this narrator, so this wasn’t a problem. Still, my identification of that voice with Vin Diesel meant I was visualizing a young Vin Diesel instead of a young man with long dark hair. Oh well.

If you’re looking for a terrific audiobook, you won’t go wrong with this one.

Recommended: Summit by Harry Farthing

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

I loved this novel.

Summit is what I like to call a literary thriller — adventure, conflict, brave deeds, beautifully written, filled with philosophy and politics, and not formulaic. It’s the debut effort of Harry Farthing who, from his website, is a British businessman, world traveler, and adventurer. I listened to the audio edition, which was read by the author. He has an excellent voice and I greatly enjoyed his performance.

The summit referred to in the title is Mount Everest, highest peak on Earth. The mountain is central to the dual stories of two European mountaineers — one modern, one pre-World War II. In both settings, Farthing pays respectful attention to the Sherpa, who are well-rounded characters with stories of their own. The author is in no hurry to bring the two principle story threads together, but that’s all right, because both plot lines are fascinating and well told.

There is also a timeliness to Summit as it explores the politics and atrocities of Nazi Germany alongside the dangerous modern-day resurgence of European fascism.

If you love tales of adventure and mountaineering, backed with historic detail, and featuring believable, sympathetic characters, then give Summit a try — and let me know what you think!

Recommended Audiobook:
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Friday, January 13th, 2017

The full title of Trevor Noah’s childhood memoir is Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. I picked this audiobook because it had been named a best book of the year by several publications, and because the sample I listened to hooked me immediately.

I can’t say I was a fan of Trevor Noah before this. Really, I knew almost nothing about him except that he was the new host of The Daily Show. But I’m a fan now.

Trevor Noah reads the audiobook himself. He has a wonderful voice and is multilingual, speaking not just the various accents of the characters in the story, but also speaking brief sentences in native languages as he narrates incidents.

The title, Born a Crime, refers to Trevor himself. He was born under apartheid, the son of a black woman and a white man — his very existence evidence of an illegal act — and for the first several years of his life his parents hid him from officials and nosy neighbors.

The quality of the storytelling in this book is amazing. Trevor relates many experiences, beginning in his childhood and progressing through the start of his career as a comedian. Throughout, he reflects with great insight, intelligence, and empathy on what he’s seen and what he’s done. He speaks truths without outrage, but rather in a “let’s talk, let’s get real” style that is easy to listen to, but still powerfully communicates the hardships and the challenges faced by those who endure bigotry, poverty, and destructive cultures. He delves into issues of misogyny and the rights of women, and the incredible strength, independence and stubbornness of his own mother. He discusses racism, skin color, apartheid, poverty, education, the police, life in an abusive home, and making a living when your options are few.

Despite all that, this book is in no sense a downer. Quite the opposite: The strength of spirit and determination that exists in every story that Trevor tells is both inspiring and uplifting.

Highly recommended.