Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Books to knock your socks off ...

I've been known to blog in this space about my own writing, but this isn't that sort of post. This is, rather, about what I read this year -- more specifically, some standout books, both fiction and non -- that I heartily recommend.

  • In a couple cases I know the author, but those are the exceptions. (And those friendships are immaterial to a book being mentioned here.)
  • When some acclaimed title, especially of a recent release, isn't on this list, please don't take the absence as a vote of no confidence. My to-read stack is piled many electrons deep -- as you might reasonably infer from a few of the books that I did read. 
Herewith, in no particular order ...


http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FC11A6/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B000FC11A6&linkCode=as2&tag=sfandnon-20Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson). A rollicking, thought-provoking, alternate history / technothriller / historical novel of WW II, the Internet bubble era, and cybersecurity. A tour de force. Software engineers, in particular, will love it.

King Solomon's Mines (H. Rider Haggard). A classic from an era in which much of Africa remained unexplored (though as with any classic, you must get past old stereotypes). A great adventure tale.

Brilliance (Marcus Sakey). Near-future, libertarian SF. What if there were supermen among us? Starts at a gallop and the pace never lets up.

The Hunger Games Trilogy (Suzanne Collins). I seldom read YA fiction and so I picked up The Hunger Games mostly out of curiosity, but the story -- and the storytelling -- immediately hooked me. Katniss Everdeen, the unlikely hero, is extremely compelling.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union (Michael Chabon). A quirky, clever murder mystery, set in an alternate history in which a second holocaust has the world's Jewish refugees resettled in Alaska. (Hint: there's a glossary at the back for the extensive Yiddish and Alaskan-Yiddish slang.)

Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 - 5) (Silo Saga) (Hugh Howey). The wildly successful, self-published, post-apocalyptic novel set in an underground silo. Really -- it works!

A Private Little War (Jason Sheehan). Joseph Heller's Catch-22 -- see, I read fiction outside the genre, too -- meets Jerry Pournelle's classic Janissaries. As implausible as that may sound, it works.

Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond (John Joseph Adams, editor). More than a dozen short stories on an Oz theme, an assortment of fantasy, SF, horror, and pure homage.

A Talent For War (Jack McDevitt). A space-opera mystery from the perspective of an antiquarian. The back story of the future history is thoroughly and compelling detailed -- and, in the end, it all matters to the story. Meticulously crafted. (Although this novel kicks off McDevitt's popular Alex Benedict series, it stands alone.)

Existence (David Brin). An epic novel pondering humanity's future and the Fermi Paradox. Aliens (sort of), and uplifted fellow terrestrials (sort of), and AIs, and wheels within wheels within wheels ...


 The Grand Tour: A Traveler's Guide to the Solar System (Ron Miller and William K. Hartmann). Up-to-date planetary astronomy with coffee-table-quality graphics. Way fun. To appreciate the many large color images (some photos, some artist conceptions), you'll want to experience this book in print format.

The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America's Weather (Jack Williams). Most books about the workings of weather are simplistic, targeted at children, or expensive college texts. This book, however, offers an excellent -- and affordable -- overview for a general adult audience.

America the Vulnerable: Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and Warfare (Joel Brenner). A sobering look at cyber (in)security from a former senior CIA executive.

The Road to Serfdom: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (F. A. Hayek). A classic of economic and political thought, by a Nobel-winning economist, about the rise of totalitarianism in middle and eastern Europe and its post-WW II echoes in the United Kingdom and the United States. This edition includes an introduction by (another Nobel-winning economist) Milton Friedman.


Anonymous said...

Having reached the end of my 'must read' shelf I appreciate your suggestions and added four to my Christmas list. The only one I've read is Hayek's 'Road to Serfdom'. It always struck me how his description of serfdom is now marketed as 'freedom', i.e. freedom from life's decisions and responsibilities.

Edward M. Lerner said...


I hope you enjoy your selections. As for Hayek ... IMO, many of his observations are as timely as ever.

- Ed