in the reads

There are a few staple items I will always be happy to unwrap at Christmas. Socks, booze, and books. This year I got a stack of the latter and am just now starting to climb out from under the mound. I've opted to bubble sort my list from most to least pulpy for your convenience.

"Odd Thomas", Dean Koontz

My brother Vince put this one under the tree for me and while I haven't read Koontz in some time I cracked it at the start of the new year as it seemed least likely to aggravate my Jan 1st hangover. I was surprised to discover that the basic "I see dead people" premise had life in it, and quite a bit at that. I tried to promise myself I would avoid a direct comparison to that movie you are no doubt recollecting right now so I will simply say that with some heart and likable if not relatable characters and a non corrosive love back story make this tale of blurred lines between life and death much more enjoyable if not as twisty come the final chapter.

"Duma Key", Stephen King

Recommended to me by my boss, here's another pop name I haven't read since re-reading "The Stand" and "The Regulators" while my brothers were doing the King thing so we could chat about them, this book is exactly what any fan would hope for. Like a fat smooth lozenge this easy to swallow tome slides along with the expected King accessibility and pace. It avoids the standard Maine backdrop and outright horror angle of previous titles I've read but manages quite well to instill a sense of the out and out creepy with a side of terribly wrong. At no point will you find the tale terrifying, but if you can make your way through this story without a rankling case of heebie jeebies you're certainly made of sterner stuff than I.

"Anathem", Neal Stephenson

My friend Mike put this ~1000 page doorstop in my hands admitting that he hadn't plowed through it yet himself but knew I'd enjoyed his previous works and would I mind telling him what I thought when I was finished. With two kids keeping him hopping I don't blame him wanting a friend to guinea pig this book for him, as not only the mass of pages but the density of ideas contained within made this by far the longest read I've enjoyed in the new year.

I've seen the word "infodump" used in descriptions of Anathem and find it to be quite apropos. This book wanders from cosmology, to quantum mechanics, to philosophy, as well as multiple universes and some Penrosian discussion of quantum effects giving rise to consciousness. I found it very reminiscent of the Greatwinter trilogy by Sean McMullen in that it spans multiple rises and subsequent collapses of civilizations while scholars strive to retain knowledge through the various calamities.

To would be readers I suggest patience, and possibly a highlighter when you read this book. Pro tip: just as when I first read A Clockwork Orange it wasn't until I finished Anathem that I discovered after slowly wrapping my head around much of the made up terminology that it contained a glossary at the end. If you find yourself struggling with this, go ahead and flip to the back. There you will also find some "example problems" discussed by the characters in the preceding chapters. If you plan to read these, (not required to enjoy the story) I suggest you do so as soon as they are noted in the text rather than waiting till the end or you may have to flip back to remember the details of the conversation.

Overall an amazing collection of ideas and characters that I will certainly be re-reading as I have no doubt missed many things the first time through.

"Halting State", Charles Stross

I've been a fan of Charlies work since day one of phrostuff, but admittedly didn't make time for "Halting State" until he recently blogged about the strange similarity it has to the this hulabaloo about Chinese hax0rs being all up in your corporate data.

As with most other works of fiction I've enjoyed that involve ARG's, I found it to be more enjoyable than the few ARG's I've tried my hand at IRL. I'm sure real life ARG's are waiting on their Super Mario / Halo / As Yet Unnamed Killer App that will bring them to the mainstream, but for the time being stories like "Halting State" exist to stir the imagination of next gen game designers and players.

The story quickly gets complex and in a way that reminds me of my stubborn cyberpunk fanboy love for William Gibson much of the greatness of this tale comes through in what is left out as opposed to what is written in. Not only does the story require attention, it demands cognition before rewarding the reader with a complete understanding of the events laid out.

"©ontent", Cory Doctorow

When he's not surfing the blogosphere, cape clad and begoggled in a hot air baloon, it's clear from reading ©ontent that Doctorow while being vexed with blindly lawsuit hurling copyright holders, GPL violators, and patchouli-scented info hippies, has a decidedly positive outlook.

While at time soap-boxy ©ontent also showcases Cory's ability to distill complex arguments into straightforward explanations which while sometimes lossy when it comes to detail never go as far as to dismiss the pertinent issues. It also manages to address much more than the standard copyright discussions you'd expect given the title, discussing the "I don't like reading off a computer screen" arguments of e-book nay-sayers, as well as expounding on the practical issues of Douglas Adams' "Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy". A worthy read in easily digestible components, this is another that I will certainly be going back to for seconds.

So there be my 2010 book report. I'm now back to re-reading worthy volumes in my collection and considering what to down next. It occurs to me that I get the bulk of my fiction in dead tree format and my non-fiction in pixels which seems like a crude basis for judgement. I'm open to suggestions for new material in both camps.