So 2013 was a good year, for reading books anyway. Like many people (at least, I hope I'm not alone), I have an ever growing "To Read" list. Bellow is a semi-complete list of the Books I read, reread, or listened to this year and what I thought about them.

Note. I don't really have a preference between listening and reading books. I'm sure I notice differences, but I don't think I miss more when reading or listening. I'll also switch off in the middle of a book, while I'll admin this is difficult to sync sometimes, it's worth the effort to keep the story going while I'm doing chores or whatever.

Anyway, here are the first few.

Neuromancer

William Gibson, 1984
Neuromancer is an important novel to read. It has inspired a lot of other material since its creation. The Matrix Trilogy, Strange Days, Snow Crash, Aeon Flux, and Ghost in The Shell all draw from it. The representation of tech and the all around aesthetic of the novel is its most distinguish feature. Most obviously, hacking on a computer is presented in a romanticized, action packed, visually interesting way. Body modifications, bizarre subcultures, and globalization also contribute to an interesting texture for this world. The result is a bit of a free for all.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes Phillip K. Dick, the works I listed above, or dreams about computers.

Rubicon: The last Years of the Roman Republic

Tom Holland, 2003
Rubicon is a popular (as in for the populace) history book, that follows the course of the ancient Roman Republics decline. I was already familiar with the people and events before reading, nevertheless I found Rubicon entertaining and edifying. Tom Holland weaves history, myth, and gossip into a compelling narrative. Not only does Rubicon cover the battles, generals, kings, elections, and trials that impacted the period. Debauched resort towns, beatnik counter culture, prophesy, prostitutes, slaves, and gangsters all play their parts. And the lines between these are often blurry.

After reading, I have a richer vision (if not understanding) of the people, places, and course of what may be the greatest epic in human (at least western) history. I'm also left with the impression that they are at once shockingly modern and barbaric. Would recommend to anyone who kinda thinks ancient stuff is cool.

How To Create A Mind

Ray Kurzweil, 2012

I wrote an earlier post about this book, so I'll just summarize here.

I see this as the latest incarnation of Kurzweil's singularity books, expressing his vision of future human computer evolution. How To Create a mind focuses specifically on advancements in our understanding of Human Cognition. As always the predictions are optimistic and met with skepticism. That's ok. Kurzweil is writing in a long tradition of futurist that date back at least to the 19th century. However likely this future is, Kurzweil is convinced it is certain, there is still value in grappling with the implications. It is like a great SF novel. Not that it is fiction, but that the ideas challenge my notions of cognition, self, humanity.

A bit heady but worth reading.

Nostrilia

Cordwainer Smith, 1964 (first half as "The Planet Buyer")
This is the weirdest book I read this year. Maybe the weirdest I've ever read. Two reasons stand out: stroon, and underpeople. In the far future, stroon is a substance that grants immortality and is extracted from building sized infected sheep. Underpeople are animals that are bread to look and think a lot like people, and perform less desirable tasks, such as maintaining the vast infrastruct or, to put it bluntly, whoring. Navigating these ideas and others even through a fairly straight forward narrative proves challenging. The universe is so foreign that I end up empathizing the underpeople more than the "real people", who live thousands of years and are telepathic.

Unfortunately this is Smith's only novel. But he does have a collection of short stories called "The Rediscovery of Man", that I will definitely be checking out.

Like "How To Create A Mind" this book challenges what it means to be human. I would only recommend this to harcore SF people.

Furies of Calderon

Jim Butcher, 2004
This is a straight forward sword and sorcery novel. Not a whole lot in the way of new ideas. The author borrows heavily from Wheel of Time especially. There are a couple of satisfying twists, and the world is charming. But overall I feel like there we a lot of times when the book was dragged out needlessly. And while charming the world lacks the depth and richness of other fantasy worlds. There is also that feeling that nothing really bad is going to happen to any character of importance. Basically none the characters with independent action are killed (only captured, or injured and flee). Make no mistake there is tons of death, plenty of underlings die, but nobody that really matters.

Would recommend to someone looking for an easy fantasy read. It's like OK, but I didn't love it.


To be continued....

I'll complete the list and name my FAVORITE BOOK I READ LAST YEAR in a upcoming post.