Every so often I keep track of what I’m reading; sometimes this lasts as long as a year before I get out of the habit.
I generally don’t comment on business and tech titles, because they tend to have a narrow audience. What I read for pleasure: SF, fantasy, horror, biography, and to some degree politics. I try to avoid major spoilers, but I’m not always successful.
We Were Gods, End Game: Alex Feinman
Ra: Sam Hughes
Paradigms Lost: Ryk Spoor
Symbiont: Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire)
We Were Gods and End Game are a near-future duology in which Luke Green discovers his former boss at a gaming startup has an Evil Plan to take over the world. Naturally, this can’t be allowed.
Confession: I bounced off of WWG several times, largely because the protagonist is an unsympathetic ass. There’s a long tradition of the snarky first-person narrator, tough-as-nails exterior and soft squishy center. There are various protagonists who would be horrible people to know in real life, but it’s fun reading about their adventures. Luke Green is a jerk unaware of his own failings, and that made it really hard for me to get into the story. I kept reading solely because he kept doing cool things.
And he does do cool things. The pass-the-ball timing attack (you’ll know it when you see it) may be the best ever portrayal of hacking VR as magic. The science all feels (and may actually be) plausible. Better yet, the characters all feel plausible: these are people I’ve met, nearly, and there’s not an idiot among them.
Ra is a novel written as a web serial from September 2011 through December 2014 — yes, it’s finished now — and as such suffered from the problem that once the author made a mistake in public, he had to deal with it in public as well. If it was good enough for Dickens…
Anyway. In 1970 or so, magic is discovered. This makes a lot of people very unhappy. Most are unhappy because their world-view is based on science, and they now need to fit non-supernatural explanations to these events. Naturally, research leads to academics, and academics means degree programs. Ra starts off as the story of Laura Ferno, Ph.D candidate in Applied Thaumic Engineering with an eye towards harnessing magic to build spacecraft, and her sister Natalie who is an academic on the theoretical side of magic. One night Laura is mugged, she defends herself with magic spells, and before you know it ten chapters have gone by and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Writing is such an assymetrical sport: it takes three years to write a novel that you’ll want to consume utterly in a weekend.
Available as HTML and epub at qntm
Paradigms Lost is a rework of Spoor’s earlier Digital Knight. Again, the boundary of science fiction and fantasy is tugged at (distorted, mangled, shredded, chewed on by a cat) as a somewhat nerdy private investigator discovers vampires, werewolves, and other things that eat you at night have some basis in fact. There’s a degree of ultra-competence about Jason Wood and his main squeeze Sylvia Stake (Wood’n’Stake, hey?) that is simultaneously comforting and annoying. Is it high literature? No. Is it good, solid storytelling of the sort that people have enjoyed for a century or more? Absolutely.
Symbiont is the second book of a trilogy started in Parasite; the third book is not yet out. It’s well-done horror about genetically engineered tapeworms, and I think that’s enough of a description to make you either want to read it or avoid it.
Available in many forms via Symbogen