The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age

Stanisław Lem

1965


Science fantasy of the first order, this book of short stories tells (mainly) of the adventures of Trurl and Klapaucius, two "constructors" (who are themselves robots) who spend their time making complex machines for the benefit of various patrons. There's a medieval feel to many of the stories, despite the fact that most of the characters are either robots or intelligent machines.

Several of the stories clearly send echoes down through future literature, and indeed other forms of entertainment: in the Seventh Sally, Trurl builds a miniature universe to placate a deposed king, allowing him to control and influence its development in a way that's unmistakably like Sim City. There are machines that tell tales within the tales, and robots who tell of having had their good deeds go awry. When you consider the Polish original was written in the mid 1960's it's all an amazing contrast to the contemporary science fiction and fantasy writing.

Finished on Sun, 06 Jan 2019 09:21:11 -0800.   Rating 4*/5*.

Rosewater (The Wormwood Trilogy, #1)

Tade Thompson

2017


Science fiction set in Nigeria gets two doses of otherness, both from the human society and from the effects of alien invasion. This is an excellent debut novel, perhaps a little unsure of itself in terms of the science and sometimes a little uncomfortable in the use of nonlinear narrative, but with compelling characters and an excellent plot line. I'll look out for the sequel.

Finished on Sat, 29 Dec 2018 04:36:25 -0800.   Rating 3*/5*.

Noumenon (Noumenon #1)

Marina J. Lostetter

2017


A voyage-to-another-star novel that embraces the distances travelled, and all that entails. A set of missions are sent out that will take generations to reach their destinations and return. On the way their society evolves in ways that the original missions planners both expect and don't.

This is a book focused on the evolution of human groups and the ways that space travel and dislocation would affect them – and indeed would affect the society left behind. There are unmistakable echoes of Marion Zimmer Bradley's short story The Climbing Wave in how the stay-athomes forget (and refuse to be impressed by) returning space travellers; and of Joe Haldeman's Forever War in how those travellers would be left behind by technological progress, cementing their perceived irrelevance.

Finished on Sat, 29 Dec 2018 04:33:17 -0800.   Rating 4*/5*.

His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae

Graeme Macrae Burnet

2015


A work of fiction so convincing that the first question the author is asked is, "Is it real?" It tells the (imaginary) story of a murder in a history of (allegedly) found objects, manuscripts, evidence statements and trial reports. The fact that it's set in a real place (Culduie in Wester Ross, looking out towards Skye and Raasay) adds a further layer of realism. It's a classic anti-hero styling, with the protagonist becoming more sympathetic the more is revealed about his less than complete honesty and the enormity of his crimes, that go way beyond what he himself admits. A gripping read.

Finished on Sun, 02 Dec 2018 08:57:20 -0800.   Rating 5*/5*.

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

David McCullough

1977


The long, twisted history of the Panama canal told with a wonderful eye for detail,. both personal and political. It's hard to imagine that that a work of construction was considered so vital that it survived the changes of engineering direction, political about-turns, and financial upheavals that bedevilled Panama. It left me wanting to transit the cabal for myself, just to see it and imagine its tortuous construction.

Finished on Sat, 17 Nov 2018 06:53:21 -0800.   Rating 4*/5*.

Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity's Chief Engineer

Rob Manning

2014


A boy's-own adventure in space travel. Howe do you design, build, fly, and debug a rover the size of a bus that'll have to endure a landing more fraught than any other vehicle ever constructed – and then operate completely remotely, without repair, for years? That this happened at all is a tribute to NASA's planning and management skills; that Curiosity has lasted years longer than ever anticipated is nothing short of spectacular. The book gives as much technical low-down as any space-obsessive could want, with pointers to more.

Finished on Sat, 17 Nov 2018 06:50:32 -0800.   Rating 5*/5*.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Carlo Rovelli

2014


"Brief" they are indeed: this is not Feynman's Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics By Its Most Brilliant Teacher in any respect, rather it's a popular-science description of some of the currents in modern physics. And it's amazingly well-done, making the concepts understandable as only someone immersed in them and gifted both in the science and in literature can possibly make them.

Finished on Sat, 17 Nov 2018 06:47:48 -0800.   Rating 4*/5*.