Superfluous Matter
Books -- The Last Few Years...

Between the pandemic, work, having a baby, and buying a house I've been a bit busy and blogging has been seriously deprioritized. However I am still reading, and here's what I've read since my last post.

  • The Waking Fire, by Anthony Ryan
  • The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • Dawnshard, by Brandon Sanderson
  • Mort, by Terry Pratchett
  • Feet of Clay, by Terry Pratchett
  • Jingo, by Terry Pratchett
  • Rhythm of War, by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Fractal Prince, by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • Mediocre, by Ijeoma Oluo
  • The Causal Angel, by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo
  • Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir
  • The Burning God, by R. F. Kuang
  • Network Effect, by Martha Wells
  • Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins
  • The Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • A Little Devil in America, by Hanif Abdurraqib
  • 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Fifth Elephant, by Terry Pratchett
  • Father Figure, by Jordan Shapiro
  • The New Childhood, by Jordan Shapiro
  • Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke
  • The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp
  • Cribsheet, by Emily Oster
  • Dark Disciple, by Christie Golden
  • Termination Shock, by Neal Stephenson
  • Bluebird, by Ciel Pierlot
  • The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi
  • Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
  • Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett
  • Thud!, by Terry Pratchett
  • Making Money, by Terry Pratchett
  • Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett
  • Hunt, Gather, Parent, by Michaeleen Doucleff
  • Snuff, by Terry Pratchett
  • A Half-Built Garden, by Ruthanna Emrys
  • Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett
  • The Animals in That Country, by Laura Jean McKay
  • The Truth, by Terry Pratchett
  • The World We Make, by N. K. Jemisin
  • How Civil Wars Start, by Barbara F. Walter
  • Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett
  • The Once and Future Sex, by Eleanor Janega
  • Radical Candor, by Kim Scott
  • Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Responding to the Right, by Nathan J. Robinson
  • The Wonder Weeks, by Hetty van de Rijt and Frans X. Plooij
  • Babel, by R. F. Kuang
  • Heir to the Empire, by Timothy Zahn
  • A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik
  • The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik
  • The Last Command, by Timothy Zahn
  • Red Team Blues, by Cory Doctorow
  • The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle
  • Hopeland, by Ian McDonald
  • Fairy Tale, by Stephen King
  • Wired for Love, by Stephanie Cacioppo
  • The Comfort Crisis, by Michael Easter
  • The High Sierra, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Lost Cause, by Cory Doctorow
  • System Collapse, by Martha Wells
  • Starter Villain, by John Scalzi
  • The Future, by Naomi Alderman
  • The Bezzle, by Cory Doctorow
  • Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind, by Molly McGhee
  • Light of the Jedi, by Charles Soule
  • A Test of Courage, by Justina Ireland
  • Into the Dark, by Claudia Gray
  • How Infrastructure Works, by Deb Chachra

Many of these were quite good. In particular I enjoyed catching up on years of Terry Pratchett and reading more of Kim Stanley Robinson's back catalog. I also read a number of parenting books which have been of varying value in real life.

I've also read a number of recent books from Cory Doctorow who seems to have spent the pandemic writing a ton of fiction on top of his usual multiple-long-form-non-fiction-essays per week schedule. I think essays are his true strength -- his fiction is fine, very readable, but never quite moves me in a literary sense. I think he uses it as a vehicle to present many of the ideas from his essays in a format that may be more accessible to a wider audience. As an example, in his latest book "The Bezzle" there is this absolute gut punch of an aside which is more or less lifted straight from several of his non-fiction writings:

Let me give you a little life tip. If you are ever tempted to hold out hope that life will get better for America's prisoners, in even the tiniest ways, avoid that temptation.

America will never make life better for the millions of souls it has imprisoned. Never. It is not in our character. To be an American is to live with the festering background knowledge that you are in a land that imprisons more of its people than any country in the history of the world--a land with more prisoners than Stalin's USSR or Hu Jintao's China or P. W. Botha's Apartheid South Africa.

With so many in prison, either you have to believe that you are living in the midst of a great many secret criminals, or you have to confront the fact that you live in a place where the only thing standing between you and decades in a prison (running at two or three times its nominal capacity) is luck ... and connections.

Most Americans don't have connections and luck is an inconstant companion, and so we have mostly decided that the truth is that a legion of secret criminals lurk among our neighbors and that our overstuffed prisons are so full only because so many of us deserve to grow old as caged animals.

To extend even the tiniest bit of mercy (or even empathy) to our incarcerated brothers and sisters is to admit the possibility that they don't belong there. If they don't belong there, then we are a nation that imprisons people who should be free. If that is true, than you or I or anyone else might end up in prison.

The belief in prisoners' just desserts is an emotional defense mechanism, as is the racism it depends on, because anyone who pays even a scintilla of attention to prisoners will know that the carceral state is not an equal-opportunity predator. It has an insatiable appetite for brown and Black flesh.

When I read this in the novel I had to put it down and stop for a while because it just so accurately boils down such a huge problem in this nation. In the last few years I've become a US citizen on top of everything else, and more than anything else here (and there are so many things) this particular issue is the one I find most haunting. I can at least vote now, but it doesn't feel like that is enough here and it is hard to reconcile all of this with continued residency in the country. Not that I'm planning to leave, but this is the thing that keeps me up when I think about longer term life plans.

Books - 2020

What a weird and distressing year. I still read some books though!

  • The Institute, by Stephen King
  • NOS4A2, by Joe Hill
  • The Dragon Republic, by R. F. Kuang
  • Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King
  • The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir
  • Agency, by William Gibson
  • Finders Keepers, by Stephen King
  • End of Watch, by Stephen King
  • Thrawn: Alliances, by Timothy Zahn
  • Thrawn: Treason, by Timothy Zahn
  • Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire
  • The City We Became, by N. K. Jemisin
  • The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders
  • A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine
  • The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley
  • The Last Emperox, by John Scalzi
  • They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, by Hanif Abdurraqib
  • White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
  • Go Ahead in the Rain, by Hanif Abdurraqib
  • Children of Virtue and Vengeance, by Tomi Adeyemi
  • Hood Feminism, by Mikki Kendall
  • The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  • Pizza, Pincushions, and Playing it Straight, by Rayne Constantine
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers
  • A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Solutions and Other Problems, by Allie Brosh
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers
  • Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Tyranny of Merit, by Michael J. Sandel
  • Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett
  • Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett
  • Edgedancer, by Brandon Sanderson
  • Men at Arms, by Terry Pratchett
  • Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson
  • Hench, by Natalie Zina Walschots
  • Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian, by Phil Szostak

Some of the best words I read this year were from Hanif Abdurraqib, a poet who also publishes collections of essays about his experiences with music and the greater societal context of those experiences from the point-of-view of a Black man, about my age, growing up in Ohio. I found that even when I didn't know the band he was discussing or even if I knew it but didn't like it I still received a ton of enjoyment just reading the words he wrote. He's an extremely talented writer. His perspectives and experiences around how America treats Black people seem particularly valuable for how they just pop up in his writing without a lot of warning, mirroring how everyday experience for Black people can turn on a dime, suddenly becoming hurtful or dangerous.

I also read a few books more specifically about Black experience in America: "White Fragility;" "Hood Feminism;" and "So You Want to Talk About Race." I recommend all of them to anyone looking to understand more about these important topics which can too easily be ignored when you are higher up the privilege ladder in our society.

One last social issues book I read that I can't recommend strongly enough was "Pizza, Pincushions, and Playing it Straight." It is a memoir of sorts by a Australian scientist who spent some time as a sex worker in a part of Australia where sex work in brothels is legal. She discusses the issues sex workers face in different regions based on the legal status in those regions and more importantly discusses why it is so important that sex work be fully legalized and regulated. This is all interspersed with hilarious stories from her experiences that make for a literal laugh-out-loud read. And much like the case with narcotics, when you actually look at the data it's impossible to argue against legalization plus regulation for sex work.

In lighter reading I've started to pick off Terry Pratchett's Discworld books which are delightful and I'm also now working my way through Brandon Sanderson's "Stormlight Archive" fantasy series which is positively enormous (each book's paperback edition has to be published in two volumes because they're too big to securely bind in one). Both series are great if you're into that sort of thing.

Honeymoon/First Anniversary Travel Journal

Sarah and I thoroughly enjoyed our wedding in May 2018 and exactly a year later we finally got around to going on our official honeymoon. We spent ten food-filled days in Japan and then six more days relaxing on the Big Island in Hawaii.

And now, almost a year later, I've finally finished compiling the travel journal for our trip! Hope you enjoy it!

Books - 2019 blogging in 2019. But lots of reading! Here is my list for the year since my last post.

  • How Long 'til Black Future Month, by N.K. Jemisin
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Tehanu, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Tales from Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Other Wind, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Daughter of Odren, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Unreal and the Real, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Fated Sky, by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
  • Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins
  • The Big Sheep, by Robert Kroese
  • Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Savage News, by Jessica Yellin
  • Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, by Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith
  • The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi
  • Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
  • Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
  • Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie
  • Provenance, by Ann Leckie
  • The Peripheral, by William Gibson
  • Fall, by Neal Stephenson
  • The Broom of the System, by David Foster Wallace
  • The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  • The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood
  • Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King
  • Elevation, by Stephen King
  • Gwendy's Button Box, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
  • Mostly Dead Things, by Kristen Arnett
  • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
  • Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi
  • Lone Wolf and Cub, Vol. 1: The Assasin's Road, by Kazuo Koike
  • Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang
  • Exhalation, by Ted Chiang

Last year my "discovery" (i.e. an author who's been around forever and I'm regrettably finding very late) was Octavia E. Butler. My failure to discover this science fiction author is almost certainly a result of the her gender and race and the fact that the science fiction space is dominated by old white men. So this year I made an attempt to consciously seek out more books in the fantasy and sci-fi space by women and people of colour and this effort was tremendously rewarding. I wish I had read Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea" series as a kid instead of Terry Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" series which devolved into a ridiculous Ayn Rand love-fest. Similarly, Tomi Adeyemi's young-adult "Legacy of Orisha" series is looking incredibly promising. Ann Leckie's "Imperial Radch" books were fantastic too, and provided super interesting perspectives on the perception of gender.

My other favourite new author of the year was Ted Chiang, a short story science fiction writer. His "Story of Your Life" was the basis of the spectacular film "Arrival" and every story of his I read leaves me thinking about it for days afterwards. He is exceptionally talented.

Other noteworth novels from the list above were: "The Mars Trilogy," "The Sparrow," "The Library at Mount Char," and the always enticing Neal Stephenson's "Fall."

I always feel like I should read more non-fiction, but I never really get to it. However I'm very glad I made time for "Open Borders" this year as it was fantastic. I won't argue its points here, but it is a very thoroughly researched graphic novel (illustrated by one of my favourite web comic artists) which basically destroys almost every anti-immigration argument out there. It advocates for fully open borders without limit all over the world and backs up every claim. Read it, it's fascinating.

Books - Catch-up!!

I failed almost completely at blogging for most of last year, but that doesn't mean I didn't read anything. In the hopes of returning to more regular posting this will be a quick catch up post listing all of the books I've read since my last book post in April.

  • The Gunslinger (revised edition), by Stephen King
  • The Drawing of the Three, by Stephen King
  • The Waste Lands, by Stephen King
  • Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King
  • The Little Sisters of Eluria, by Stephen King
  • The Wind Through the Keyhole, by Stephen King
  • Wolves of the Calla, by Stephen King
  • Song of Susannah, by Stephen King
  • The Dark Tower, by Stephen King
  • The Dark Tower Omnibus Edition (comic), by Robin Furth
  • Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
  • Authority, by Jeff VanderMeer
  • Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer
  • Star Wars: Ahsoka, by E. K. Johnston
  • The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red, by Martha Wells
  • The Murderbot Diaries: Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells
  • The Murderbot Diaries: Rogue Protocol, by Martha Wells
  • The Murderbot Diaries: Exit Strategy, by Martha Wells
  • The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Oracle Year, by Charles Soule
  • The Seamstress, by Frances de Pontes Peebles
  • Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Power, by Naomi Alderman
  • Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman
  • Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Bloodchild, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Wild Seed, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Mind of my Mind, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Clay's Ark, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Patternmaster, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Watching Porn, by Lynsey G
  • The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi
  • Machine Learning, by Hugh Howey
  • Paper Girls, issues 1-20 (comic), by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
  • Sex Criminals, issues 1-20 (comic), by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
  • Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Infinity Gauntlet (comic), by Jim Starlin
  • We Stand On Guard issues 1-6 (comic), by Brian K. Vaughan
  • The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang
  • Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King
  • Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz
  • The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg, by Deborah Eisenberg

The main take-away from this list for me is that eBooks from the library dramatically increase the amount of reading I do. So that's pretty great. More specifically I'd like to call out a few items from the list for special mention.

I re-read the Gunslinger books for the n-th time and still really enjoyed them. I hadn't re-read anything in quite a while and was pleased to find I still like to do that.

I can't believe I'm just finding Octavia E. Butler. She's fantastic. Superb writing all around. I'm going to read the rest of her books soon. Her short stories in Bloodchild were especially enjoyable, and I really liked her "Parable" books too. Her Patternist series was epic!

My favourite standalone books of the year were Warlight (Ondaatje continues to be fantastic), The Seamstress (surprisingly gripping), and The Power (really interesting ideas). And if you string them all together the Murderbot Diaries novellas make an excellent full-length novel that was super fun.

I'm currently in progress on the enormous collection of short stories from Deborah Eisenberg. They're excellent but it's a long and dense collection so I'm moving slowly. I'd compare them favourably to Alice Munro -- excellent stories about real people and their feelings.

More reading to come!

Tinymoons Travel Journal

Sarah and I had a wonderful wedding back in May, but with family visiting from out of town and immigration details to sort out we chose to postpone our "real" honeymoon until 2019. Instead we went on two "tinymoons" within the United States, one to Utah and the other to Asheville, North Carolina.

I've just posted a combined travel journal for the two trips, check it out!

Books - Sapiens and Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari

My mom recommended these two books to me, and apparently they've also been featured on reading lists from all sorts of famous people.

In "Sapiens" the author examines the history of our species, from emergence in Africa to the present day, focusing on the major revolutions (cognitive, agricultural, industrial, scientific, etc) and how they shaped us into the dominant life form on the planet. His primary thesis is that we are separated from other animals by our ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers. This ability arises from our capacity to believe in things that exist purely in our imaginations (e.g. god(s), nations, money, human rights, etc). Such concepts provide a unifying force that binds together groups of people, even when the people in a group don't directly know all of the others in the same group. It's a pretty interesting theory, and one that is hard to dismiss after his extensive presentation of the history of our species.

In "Homo Deus" he projects his theories into the future, discussing how we might change and what new "religions" might evolve as the unifying force to replace the liberal humanism we have now. Much of the book is devoted to the idea that technology will become better than humans at almost everything, so we will have to find meaning in other places.

The books are on the long side, and can be repetitive and hyperbolic, but all of the predictions are hedged and alternate possibilities are regularly presented. All the predictions seemed reasonable, which means they're probably wrong and will feel dated a few years from now. But the historical analysis seemed pretty good.

I enjoyed the whirlwind trip through 70,000 years of homo sapiens and in particular I liked how equally he treated all of the stories we've told ourselves over the millennia. The various religions, ideologies, beliefs, and systems of our history are all arbitrary and fictional but yet so powerful. They are the things that propelled us to where we are, and new fictions will be required to keep us moving forward in the future as we deal with advanced computational systems, genetic and biological engineering, climate change, and whatever else happens next. Fun stuff.

Books - The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi

I snagged this book from the library after seeing it recommended in a few places. It's a dystopian near-future look at what the American Southwest might be like when water truly becomes scarce (as is likely to happen in light of climate change). Living in California, the world of the book definitely resonated with me and I found myself thinking about it long after I was done.

It was an exciting read, but for the first time ever I found bits of the book to be too violent. I'm not sure if it was especially bad, or if my tolerance has changed. I just remember being unsettled at a couple points by the descriptions. Still worth a read, just be warned.

Books - The Broken Earth Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin

I've decided that if I'm reading series of books then I only need to do one review post for the whole series. Maybe that's lazy, but I've been doing a ton of web development and content generation over on our wedding website so I'm not super inspired to blog as well.

This trilogy though is, wow, one of the best I've ever read. It blends sci-fi and fantasy in a far future, post-apocalyptic earth that is rapidly approaching another apocalypse. The world has become a place where the earth regularly (every few decades) produces global scale seismic or volcanic catastrophes leading to prolonged periods of extreme hardship (nuclear winter style) that are called "fifth seasons." The culture of the people in the world is centred around being prepared to survive such events. Additionally, there are certain individuals who can manipulate seismic events, drawing on power from the earth or any nearby heat source. Those people (called orogenes) can help manage the unstable world, but are regularly feared, enslaved, and/or killed by the regular people.

The first two books, "The Fifth Season" and "The Obelisk Gate" both won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2016 and 2017 respectively. The final book, "The Stone Sky" is a popular favourite for the Hugo award this year. The achievement of winning two years in a row (or maybe three) is stunning, especially since just writing three amazing books in three years is a tremendous accomplishment on its own.

Definitely read these books!

Books - Old Man's War Series, by John Scalzi

We've been busy with wedding planning (and wedding website design/creation) so while I've been reading, I couldn't get up the energy to blog about it. Fortunately I was reading a six book series so I pretended it would be ok to just blog about them all when I finished.

"Old Man's War" is a really fun sci-fi series where humans have made the transition to interstellar travel and exploration, only to find that the galaxy is full of other intelligent life all vying for colonization space on the relatively few habitable worlds. The humans responsible for space travel, defense, and colonization live apart from those on Earth and tightly control Earth's access to technology and travel. Earth citizens can choose to join the "Colonial Defense Forces" for a term of ten years once they reach the age of 70, but may never return to Earth. So a person can die of old age or join the space army and never come home. Of course most join the army because of the promise of extended healthy life and the ability to see the galaxy.

The book follows several characters through this transition and beyond, touching on many themes like mortality and what it means to be human. The characters were well developed and the adventures are great. The people and organizations in the books are not solely good or evil and exhibit a decent amount of complexity and realism. Scalzi is a pretty solid author.