ITHCWY: Robert Ellison's Blog

Book reviews for February 2017

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

5/5

Stories of Your Life was made into Arrival, and it's a great story but just one of many in this book. Only one fell flat for me. Ted Chiang has a thought and then takes it so devastatingly literally that it will take you a while to stop thinking about it.

 

The End Has Come (The Apocalypse Triptych, #3) by John Joseph Adams

The End Has Come (The Apocalypse Triptych, #3) by John Joseph Adams

4/5

A cunning ploy - like most sets of short stories this is a mixed bag. The sting in the tail is that most continue in some form through all three books in the series so you have to read all three (if you have trouble not finishing a story, there isn't an executive order or anything). It's probably more of an investment than the material warrants (I'd have preferred a single and more tightly edited volume). It does however include a new strand of the Wool saga as well as a few other standouts so if you have the time, dive in.

 

Book reviews for December 2016

The End is Now by John Joseph Adams

The End is Now by John Joseph Adams

4/5

Review coming with book 3...

 

The End is Nigh by John Joseph Adams

The End is Nigh by John Joseph Adams

4/5

Review coming with book 3...

 

Night School (Jack Reacher, #21) by Lee Child

Night School (Jack Reacher, #21) by Lee Child

4/5

I much prefer flashback Reacher to modern day midwest town trauma Reacher. This is one of the best.

 

Book reviews for November 2016

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

5/5

Far future space pirates. Awesome.

 

Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

3/5

The overall message is good - focus on making your users actually awesome rather than you looking awesome with some concrete strategies to find out what that is and how to get there. A central theme is removing barriers to effective usage. The product here is a book. It was hell to read on my phone. Now if the graphics were large and central to the message and couldn't be done other than in some weird non-standard way I might forgive this. But all I needed to on every page was zoom in to get rid of the needless massive borders. That's all it took. Hundreds of times. So I'd recommend this if you still like paper books or are some sort of tablet toting throwback but on phone? No.

 

Book reviews for October 2016

The Hurricane by Hugh Howey

The Hurricane by Hugh Howey

4/5

Affecting story of a boy (and family) who are forced to disconnect thanks to a category five storm. First non sci-fi Howey that I've read and it's one of his best.

 

Presence by Richard MacManus

Presence by Richard MacManus

2/5

Plodding retread of VR tropes.

 

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

3/5

 

The Elephant in the Room by Jon Ronson

The Elephant in the Room by Jon Ronson

3/5

Jon Ronson visits with the Alt Right. It's good but not a revelation.

 

Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension by Samuel Arbesman

Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension by Samuel Arbesman

3/5

Everything is getting more complicated. This book suggests we abandon the physics based approach of trying to understand systems in a reductionist way and switch to biological thinking - sample, study the ecology, embrace a glimpse of understanding and forget knowing everything. Gulp.

 

Book reviews for September 2016

Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms by David S. Evans

Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms by David S. Evans

2/5

Given that matchmaker businesses include stock exchanges, newspapers and shopping malls the claim that the field of economics only 'discovered' them in 2000 is the most interesting fact in this book. It doesn't sound like it can possibly true and either casts serious doubt on the credibility of the authors or on the entire field (including the authors).

Looking past the amazing recent discovery of multi-sided platforms the book is very light on any actual theory beyond the trivial - for example pricing may include a subsidy to one side and platform ignition is hard. Really. There are some good anecdotal accounts of specific businesses and there is a small amount of insight to be gained here. Overall I'd say avoid though.

 

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

4/5

 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

3/5

 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

3/5

Solid thriller based on the multiple universe interpretation of quantum physics.

 

Book reviews for August 2016

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

4/5

I've been occasionally checking in for the third part of Ashby's Machine Dynasty series and discovered that instead of finishing that off she wrote Company Town instead. Which is a good thing. This is fast paced and feels effortless. It's the story of a future town bought by a family dynasty and the bodyguard to the heir apparent. Hard to say too much more but I loved it.

 

Patriot (Alexander Hawke, #9) by Ted Bell

Patriot (Alexander Hawke, #9) by Ted Bell

2/5

 

Warriors (Alexander Hawke, #8) by Ted Bell

Warriors (Alexander Hawke, #8) by Ted Bell

1/5

Bell has a remarkable ability to fatally self-contradict himself in the space of a single sentence.

 

Book reviews for July 2016

The Nightmare Stacks (Laundry Files, #7) by Charles Stross

The Nightmare Stacks (Laundry Files, #7) by Charles Stross

4/5

 

The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls by Emma Cline

3/5

OK, but lots of foreshadowing, not much shadow.

 

Book reviews for June 2016

The Night Stalker (DCI Erika Foster, #2) by Robert Bryndza

The Night Stalker (DCI Erika Foster, #2) by Robert Bryndza

4/5

Decent police thriller, a notch up from the first in the series I thought. I'll buy the next one.

 

Professor Stewart's Incredible Numbers by Ian Stewart

Professor Stewart's Incredible Numbers by Ian Stewart

4/5

A tour of mathematics through the device of looking at what's interesting about different numbers. Brought back all sorts of things I learned in school and university that are now slowly fading again.

 

The Girl In The Ice (DCI Erika Foster, #1) by Robert Bryndza

The Girl In The Ice (DCI Erika Foster, #1) by Robert Bryndza

3/5

Bit linear but fun.

 

Book reviews for May 2016

When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt

When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt

3/5

I didn't realize this was just a collection of blog posts! There are some good ones for sure (my favorite is the evisceration of Good to Great for the exact same reasons that I hate that book). But it's just some blog posts and they're mostly too short and not fleshed out.

 

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins

2/5

I'm not really sure what the point of this book is. I guess Dawkins is trying to bring people round to believing in science and so the main device used in the book is to mock religions and myths for a while before sketching in a light summary (very light for the non-Biology sections) of some area of science. If you're in it for the science then you're going to be mostly disappointing. If you're not of a scientific bent then you're going to be alienated by the heavy handed myth bashing and so I don't think you're going to be in a positive frame of mind to listen to what Dawkins has to say when you get the science bit. Not recommended for either audience.

 

Three Tales from the Laundry Files by Charles Stross

Three Tales from the Laundry Files by Charles Stross

3/5

 

The Mind Club by Daniel M. Wegner

The Mind Club by Daniel M. Wegner

3/5

The central theme of this book is some research about how people feel about different kinds of minds. At it's heart it's a Harvard Business Review style quadrant analysis with the two dimensions being doing and feeling (and doers doing things to feelers). This isn't nearly as interesting (or difficult) as actually trying to understand different minds. This is touched on briefly and mainly via that experiment where people report that they made a decision half a second after their body started doing the thing that they decided to do. Which is fascinating and hard to explain but it's only really a detour here. The meat of the book is how people feel about dogs and dead people and gods. There are some interesting anecdotes and the book is saved by the good humor and gentle snarkiness of at least one of the authors.

 

Book reviews for April 2016

The Phoenix Descent by Chuck Grossart

The Phoenix Descent by Chuck Grossart

3/5

It's billed as a bit of a scifi time travel adventure but really it's more of a zombie apocalypse variant. Not really my thing so I initially hated it but that hatred turned to respect and finally, love. Well maybe not quite love but it's a decent read.

 

Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War by Raghu Karnad

Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War by Raghu Karnad

4/5

Very personal and sometimes florid but deeply fascinating story of the Indian Army in World War 2.