I'm always trying to get through the sci-fi canon, because I haven't read too many of the classics, and they've been thoroughly vetted for quality. I...moreI'm always trying to get through the sci-fi canon, because I haven't read too many of the classics, and they've been thoroughly vetted for quality. I don't know what I can really add to the corpus of Dune reviews: obviously it's an incredibly deep world and history, and Herbert is expert at immersing the reader in that world. The action is good, and certain passages are really beautiful.
It's definitely "hard" sci-fi, though, none of this near-future business. If you're in the mood, though, this one has earned its status as a classic.(less)
I read this book for a class I took on the culture and politics of hackers. I remember hearing mixed reviews when it came out, so I was lukewarm on re...moreI read this book for a class I took on the culture and politics of hackers. I remember hearing mixed reviews when it came out, so I was lukewarm on reading it. (I should say, first, I consider myself something of a nerd [although I'd say geek, he doesn't really address that dichotomy:] and I thought this would be funny on account of that, if not great.)
Anyway, I totally enjoyed this book. It's personal, emotional, sad in places, very funny, and surprisingly informative. Nugent is not afraid to engage with some real history and literary examples, which gives some substance to what could be a very fluffy book. Especially poignant is the last third or so, where he gives some actually tragic case studies of nerds that he's known, and how they've grappled with the emotional hardships they've faced. Then again, the middle section discussing hipsters as a social group related to the nerd was really great as well.
I think a lot of people would enjoy this book, but I immediately recommended it to the bigger nerds in my life. One of Nugent's big points is that, though nerd-type characters have appeared in literature for centuries, their emotions are often glossed over because they don't manifest themselves in the same way. Nugent's book addresses the emotions of nerds in a way I haven't really seen before, and I enjoyed it.(less)
It's probably mostly a result of the year I was born that I'm a lot more into the second wave of cyberpunk fiction than the first; sure, I enjoyed Neu...moreIt's probably mostly a result of the year I was born that I'm a lot more into the second wave of cyberpunk fiction than the first; sure, I enjoyed Neuromancer et al, but I feel like I get a lot more out of books like Snow Crash.
It's sometimes a little bit cheesy, and filled to the brims with puns, and like any book that explores future technology from almost 20 years ago, it's got elements that seem a little dated. (The Metaverse, in particular, seemed very prescient when Second Life was "all the rage," but now that it seems retro, it's hard to imagine something like the Metaverse in the future.)
In spite of the age, though, this book stands up surprisingly well. It's a pretty exciting read, and contains a lot of interesting ideas about language and history and hackers. Of course, it takes some major liberties with history in order to communicate those, but that's why it's in the fiction section.
All in all, very good, but very sci-fi. If you're in the mood for that, this one's definitely a new(-ish) classic.(less)
This was another assigned book, and one my professor had raved about reading. It lived up to everything she said, and then some.
I haven't read much ab...moreThis was another assigned book, and one my professor had raved about reading. It lived up to everything she said, and then some.
I haven't read much about anarchism, and probably am guilty of some of the misconceptions Graeber describes academics displaying on the topic. But in just over 100 pages, he very lucidly lays out a description of the political philosophy, the problems it faces in academic adoption, and the case for anthropological study of anarchist groups. Incidentally, his description makes anarchy sound a lot more appealing than I had thought of it earlier, but consistent with the tenets of anarchism that he describes, he is not proselytizing.
Interspersed throughout are subtle and clever jokes that struck me as an unusual but welcome addition to what could have been a very dry academic text. His title is an apt one: the book comes across in some places as fragmented, and certain concepts which could be the basis for whole monographs sometimes get treated with one or two sentences. For its length and intents, though, this book is a fantastic introduction to the concepts discussed therein.(less)
I had to read a series of similar books on risk, probability, chance, and finance for a very cool finance course I was in. This one was okay, but for...moreI had to read a series of similar books on risk, probability, chance, and finance for a very cool finance course I was in. This one was okay, but for two things: one, it treaded ground that was a bit too familiar to me, in part because of the other books I had been reading, and in part because the content of this book doesn't really fill a full book. Two, it's hard to avoid the overwhelming sensation that Taleb is kind of a jerk. It might sounds like a silly point, but my classmates all felt it too, and it was actually distracting.
That said, it's not terrible, and he is clear in explaining things. He also has a good point to make, and is funny about cutting down the finance guys who need to hear that. It just seems like the book should be more about those ideas, and less about Taleb.(less)
At a touch over 600 pages, depending on the edition, The Savage Detectives looks to be pretty epic. Not as epic as Bolaño's later 2666 of course, but...moreAt a touch over 600 pages, depending on the edition, The Savage Detectives looks to be pretty epic. Not as epic as Bolaño's later 2666 of course, but still a pretty hefty volume.
Reading reveals that the size of the text doesn't do it justice. Spanning twenty years and encompassing literally dozens of characters and voices, this feels less like one cohesive work and more like an expansive collection of perspectives, a perfectly incomplete telling of two lives. Reportedly the two main characters--although perhaps it's more appropriate to say they're the two most often recurring characters, and they're not the "heroes" of a "narrative," really--are stand-ins for Bolaño himself and his best friend. It makes sense, then, that this novel is a deep exploration of their friendship and each of them as individuals.
The writing is beautiful, and each of the characters that provide first-person accounts throughout the middle section of the novel seems fully formed and distinctive in his or her thoughts and actions. The descriptions and interactions with various cultures, too, is impressive; by my count the action takes place in at least four continents and too many cities and countries to count, and each location has a character that can be perceived by its influence on the others.
It wasn't always easy to read this, and I found myself struggling to remain totally captivated for almost the first 200 pages. With so many threads interweaving at once, and facing the heft of the tome in my hands, maybe I was intimidated. However, after powering through it, I was definitely rewarded with a wonderful reading experience. I'm excited to pick up some of Bolaño's other work, as I've heard that this level of excellence is not atypical of his writing.(less)
I read this one first in high school for my AP English Language class. At the time, one of my best friends had described it as "the best book ever wri...moreI read this one first in high school for my AP English Language class. At the time, one of my best friends had described it as "the best book ever written," so that's how I went into it.
I can't say I disagree with him. I think there's a case to be made for The Great Gatsby as the great American novel. The prose is so beautiful, the characters are depicted so powerfully, and there's something uniquely American about the plot and themes Fitzgerald presents.
Often people refer to a character with whom the reader is "supposed to identify," and usually I feel like that's constructed and not really a real thing. By contrast, I find myself feeling like Jay Gatsby every day. As such, the language Fitzgerald employs has actually colored the way I see my own situations. I think that's the mark of a great book, and this is one of them.(less)
The structure of this book is three distinct detective stories that are sort of thematically related, if not overtly so on a plot level. I think it's...moreThe structure of this book is three distinct detective stories that are sort of thematically related, if not overtly so on a plot level. I think it's worthwhile to read all three because they explore the same concepts from different angles, but I definitely think the quality is a little bit lopsided.
The first story, "City of Glass", is really great. It's an excellent meta-mystery that will have you thinking really hard and scratching your head in a good way. The other two stories, while good, are not as exceptional. They do serve to set off that first one as really impressive, though.
If all three had been comparable to that first beautiful story, this one would've been five stars for sure. As it stands, it's still a solid four.(less)
I'm always interested in time travel stories that employ alternative mechanics. Inception could be described that way. I think that The Forever War is...moreI'm always interested in time travel stories that employ alternative mechanics. Inception could be described that way. I think that The Forever War is best understood that way as well.
As the title suggests, the story is about war, and it's not giving anything away to say it's war between humans and an alien civilization. As the war progresses though, the civilization back on Earth become increasingly alien to the protagonist. Clearly drawn parallels to the Vietnam War demonstrate how effectively an imaginative plot like this one can address real social issues.
The Forever War is really good sci-fi, in that it creates a metaphor for observations of the present, and in the guise of advancing a literal plot, explores that metaphor in ways that wouldn't be possible to do directly. Sometimes this kind of story is dismissed by the real literary world, but it's doing itself a disservice: stories like this one are able to address concepts of identity, society, communication and humanity better and more clearly than most "real" novels. (less)
This is one of the few books I can read over and over. I was at a party one time and a smart guy I didn't know very well said that this was the best b...moreThis is one of the few books I can read over and over. I was at a party one time and a smart guy I didn't know very well said that this was the best book he had ever had to read for school. That piqued my interest, because I was already thinking about starting to read some Pynchon, and like most people in that situation, I noted that this was the short one. I was sold.
An undoubtedly weird story about uncertainty, insanity, and what appears to be a vast underground conspiracy, The Crying of Lot 49 packs a lot of material into a relatively thin volume. As when I've read other Pynchon books, I want to have a notebook next to me just for keeping track of character names.
Some people might be put off by the complexity, which at times seems to verge on intentional inaccessibility, or the potentially heavy-handed wordplay that shows up in, for example, the character names: Oedipa Maas and Pierce Inverarity, her former lover with a penchant for philately, are the two main figures. I've seen essays written on whether Oedipa is oedipal, and the origin of Pierce's unusual surname. I prefer to think that Pynchon is just messing with us.
Anyway, after a couple of reads I still can't tell you what the, you know, plot is, really. But the way it incorporates physics, psychology, history, and popular culture is smart and thought-provoking. I've bought this book four times and given away each copy to interested friends, that's what I think of it.(less)
Sometimes subtle satire is not the way to go. The Ask is pretty in-your-face Minippean stuff, taking the culture in and around a mediocre Manhattan ar...moreSometimes subtle satire is not the way to go. The Ask is pretty in-your-face Minippean stuff, taking the culture in and around a mediocre Manhattan arts school as the target. It's entertaining the whole way through, engaging most of the time, and occasionally thought-provoking, and it's hard not to get wrapped up in the sometimes trivial problems that weave through the plot. The social commentary is straightforward and self-consciously schlocky, and for that reason remains enjoyable. All in all, this is a really funny and interesting little novel.(less)
A second reading was definitely rewarding here. I also got to read it very quickly this time, taking only a handful of breaks, which was also worthwhi...moreA second reading was definitely rewarding here. I also got to read it very quickly this time, taking only a handful of breaks, which was also worthwhile. Vonnegut is always good, and does a great job of demonstrating where sci-fi can go places other genres can't. That idea may be presented most clearly in this book. (A good runner-up, of course, is Cat's Cradle.)(less)