Tag Archives: Charles Stross

Roundup: Books Reviewed In Q3 2017

This quarter saw a few interesting ideas about coworking, ever weirder computer security threats, and the rapid approach of Quantum Computing and Quantum Cryptography.

Dinosaurs and birds remain interesting.

There was a never ending drum of dubious Blockchain technology, dubious Internet of Things technology.

And, as usual regular book reviews.

Fiction

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
The Answers by Catherine Lacey
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
The Management Style of Supreme Beings by Tom Holt
The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross
Shiver Hitch by Linda Greenlaw
Dichronauts by Greg Egan
Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher
The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess
Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher
Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher
Will Save Galaxy For Food by Yahtzee Croshaw
Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
Arlington Park by Rachael Cusk
Transition by Rachael Cusk
Death at La Fenece by Donna Leon
A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon

Non Fiction

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell
Made With Creative Commons by Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchli Pearson
How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg
Beyond Infinity by Eugenia Cheng

Finally, I suggests a bunch of “great names for a band”.

“Service Office Industry”
Comfortable edgy fit outs”
As Greenland Darkens
Recent Mass Loss
Larsen C
My Raptor Posse
A Rip of Raptors
Personal Raptor
The Robot Raptor Revue
Final Five Orbits
“Kuiper Belt & Braces”

“A Belt of Kuiper

“The Grand Finale Toolkit”
“Fog World Congress”

Book Review: “The Delirium Brief” by Charles Stross

The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross

And another fantasy from Britain…

As regular readers know, the Laundry Files are far from over.  Dark forces are gathering, and breaking through into everyday reality.  The defense forces are overstretched and beleaguered.

The Delirium Brief continues the story, starting from the fallout of the events recounted n The Nightmare Stacks. You can’t level half of Leeds without the public noticing, so there are many consequences.

This latest file is pretty dark and desperate.  It gave me nightmares.

This book is every bit as good as we expect from Charlie, with lots of witty banter and clever technology jokes.  The cast of characters is outstanding, and the catastrophe binds people deeply and brings out the best in even the little guys.

Stross works in his own brand of political satire, as well, though it isn’t really very funny in this case.  It’s one thing to joke about demonic forces taking over the government, it’s another thing when demonic forces actually are taking over.

But the events are so grim, as grim as grim gets.  Losses are heavy, and evil seems certain to win.  All seems lost.

But the story is not over.

One thing is for sure:  the Laundry Files put our own little troubles in perspective.  It could be worse.  A lot worse.

Get it. Read it.  But maybe not just before bedtime.


1. Charles Stross, The Delirium Brief, New York, Tom Doherty Association, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

 

Housekeeping: Books Reviewed Q1 2017

As I generally do, I have collected all the books I reviewed in the first quarter of 2017, in no particular order.

The week of February 20 was “book week”, with a book review every day, including longer reviews of five non-fiction books (starred).

Fiction

Revenger by Alistair Reynolds
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Girls by Emma Cline
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
The People’s Police by Norman Spinrad
IQ by Joe Ide
Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Empire Games by Charles Stross
The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
The Golden Gate by Robert Buettner
The Old Man by Thomas Perry
Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Non Fiction

The Caliphate by Hugh Kennedy
* The New Better Off or Reinventing the American Dream by Courtney E. Martin
* How America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein
* Valley of the Gods by Alexandra Wolfe
* Wonderland by Steven Johnson
* Measure for Measure by Thomas Levenson

 

Book Reviews

 

 

Book Review: “Empire Games” by Charles Stross

Empire Games by Charles Stross

This is a new story set in the multi-timeline universe of the Clan. This exhausting geopolitical six book saga was last heard from with “The Trade of Queens” (2009), and seemed pretty thoroughly over. Massive thermonuclear war is a huge downer and generally considered the end of the story.

But, of course, with an infinite number of timelines, and the ability to travel between them, Stross has given himself a really big piece of paper to write on. Merely wiping out a planet or two is scarcely a blip in the big picture.

Empire Games picks up the story more than a decade later and the many political factions are still jockeying for power and survival.

With everyone geared up with nukes—and cross time delivery systems—a tense espionage game is underway. The worlds are teetering blindly on the brink of mutual destruction.

The original refugees and survivors are aging, so now it will be up to the kids to get us out of this mess.

I was not sure I wanted to pick this story up again, with the earlier series ending so depressing. But here he manages to create both hope and agonizing suspense.

The main downside is that this is “book 1”—there is so much more to come, and we have to wait.  “Cliff hangers” doesn’t even begin to describe the current state.

This is the stuff we expect from Mr. Stross!  He’s still one of the best writers today.


  1. Charles Stross, Empire Games, New York, TOR, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

2016 Roundup and Books Reviewed in 2016

In 2016, this blog passed the milestone of posting at least once per day for1,000 days in a row! January 5 will mark three years of daily posts to this blog.

My blog may not be great, but it is consistent!  Or at least persistent.


Regular readers know that this blog is somewhat random, touching on any topic I find interesting enough or have something to say about. But some topics were visited more than once.

This year saw many posts on coworking and similar “co” movements (cohousing, platform cooperatives, the future of work, the sharing economy, etc.)

These posts give you a preview of a new book that is in preparation, titled, “What is coworking?” It should be available in early 2017. I.e, Real Soon Now.

I posted nearly weekly about cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology, and the communities that have risen around these technologies.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology has so many perspectives, it is hard ot keep track, but some of the topics overlap with coworking, the sharing economy, and similar “bottom up” movements.

Reflecting earlier research, I have also posted frequently about HCI, particularly wearables, and haptics. I know quite a bit about these topics, though the most important thing is that no one really knows how to use them well.

I posted nearly weekly about robots and bio-inspired design. Robots are really cool, though in this area I am just an enthusiast, not an expert.

Other general science-y topics have included dinosaurs (naturally) and animal intelligence. I have also posted frequently about space exploration and remote sensing of the environment especially observing the retreat of the ice.


I should note that I had been posting comments on items picked up from Wired magazine on line. In fact, I was reading Wired so regularly, I was just about to subscribe. But then they decided to close off access to me unless I accept their advertising or pay $1 per article. I might have subscribed to this deal, were it not for the fact that even the “ad free” option still wanted to aggressively track me. So I stopped reading Wired.

You know what? I never even noticed it was gone.

I think you miscalculated, Wired


On a less contentious topic. Following Sensei Dave Barry, I suggested a number of names for rock bands based on current topics and reading.

I suggested some band names with cryptcurrency themed names, including “Fintech”, and “Hard Fork” (not to be mistaken for “Haardvark”, which I have actually heard of.)

Other nerdy names might be Feather Evolutionor the Saturn themed “First Ring Grazing Plunge


Books Reviewed

As always, I posted short book reviews every week. In case it isn’t clear, these are all books I read this year.

In total, I wrote about 100 books (a happy milestone, purely by luck). The majority of the books are relatively recent, and, with only a few exceptions are recommended.

But if I had to pick a few “best” books, I would say:

Best Fiction: Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley

 An eagerly awaited sequel to the The Rook (2012), this is easily one of the most enjoyable and imaginative fantasies of the year.

Best Non-fiction: The Euro by Joseph Stiglitz

A timely and riveting explanation of what went wrong in the Eurozone, and what might be done to salvage the situation. Considering the subject matter, I was expecting difficult and obtuse reading. Instead, I found it clear and easy to understand, if hard to swallow.

Walking the Walk:  How to Make Money (and a whole lot more) by Sharing by Claire Marshall

In a totally category, “walking the walk”, there are quite a few  important books about how to live right, but  the 2016 nod must got to Sensei Claire Marshall.  Actually living for a month in “the sharing economy”, and now teaching that “we are happiest when we share”.

Other notable reads

I read new  books by old favorites by A. Lee Martinez, Charles Stross, Carl HIasson, Connie Willis, and others.

I started reading Donna Leon, and wrote about a few of her books (there are many more great novels on the back list to be read).

I found some great new favorites, including Guy Adams.

In non-fiction, there have been several great books about animal intelligence, by Jennifer Ackerman and Frans De Waal. Many new articles and books about dinosaurs are coming out.

In addition to Stiglitz, Robert J. Gordon’s book on economics was good.

At a more personal note, there were a number of ebooks about “the new way of work”, by people who are  definitely walking the walk, including Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski, Sebastian Olma, and Anastasia Cole Plankias.


For reference here is a list of the books reviewed in the fourth quarter:

Fiction

1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflottz by Kerryn Offord and Rick Boatright
A Second Chance by Jodi Taylor
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
Curioddity by Paul Jenkins
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
For a Few Souls More by Guy Adams
Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood
Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
The Terranauts by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Nonfiction

Best State Ever by Dave Barry
Pax Romana by Adrian Goldsworthy
The Euro by Joseph Stiglitz

And here is a consolidated list from Q1, Q2, Q3:

Fiction

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
A Question of Belief by Donna Leon
A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor
At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Beastly Things by Donna Leon
By Its Cover by Donna Leon
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Coconut Cowboy by Tim Dorsey
Empire State by Adam Christopher
Falling In Love by Donna Leon
Inside a Silver Box by Walter Mosley
Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Made To Kill by Adam Christopher
Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
Monstrous Little Voices edited by David Thomas Moore
Once A Crooked Man by David McCallum
Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen
Rewired edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel
Robot Uprisings ed. by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams
Save Room For Pie by Roy Blount, Jr.
Slade House by David Mitchell
Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley
Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
The Assistants by Camille Perri
The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black
The Clown Service by Guy Adams
The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan
The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey
The Golden Egg by Donna Leon
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez
The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray
The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams
The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross
The Path by Drew Magary
The Rain Soaked Bride by Guy Adams
The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales
The Underground Railroad by Colin Whitehead
The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon
Vinegar Girl by Anny Tyler

Non fiction

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal
Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez
Coworking: Building Community as a Space Catalyst by Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski
Coworking: How freelancers escape the coffee shop office and tales of community from independents around the world by Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski
Digital Nomads: How to Live, Work and Play Around the World by Esther Jacobs and André Gussekloo
Dude, Where’s My Drone: The future of work and what you can do to prepare for it by Liquid Talent
Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes
How to Make Money (and a whole lot more) by Sharing by Claire Marshall
Inventology by Pagan Kennedy
Labor of Love by Moira Weigel
Magic and Loss by Virginia Heffernan
Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle
Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion-Dollar Deals by John LeFevre
The Farm on The Roof by Anastasia Cole Plankias
The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
The Global Code by Clotaire Rapaille
The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humbolt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon
The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0 by Sebastian Olma
The Tyrannosaur Chronicles  by David Hone
Tribe by Sebastian Junger

 

2016 Wrapup

 

Housekeeping: Books Reviewed Third Quarter 2016

In the past quarter,in addition to daily posts, comments on articles and products, I posted brief book reviews for 21 books and ebooks in the third quarter.

Here is a list, in no particular order.

Fiction

A Question of Belief by Donna Leon
A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor
At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Beastly Things by Donna Leon
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen
Robot Uprisings ed. by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams
The Assistants by Camille Perri
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez
The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross
The Path by Drew Magary
The Underground Railroad by Colin Whitehead
Vinegar Girl by Anny Tyler

Nonfiction

Magic and Loss by Virginia Heffernan
Tribe by Sebastian Junger
The Tyrannosaur Chronicles  by David Hone
The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal

 

Book Review: “The Nightmare Stacks” by Charles Stross

The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross

How can anyone even live in England? It appears to be under supernatural assault all the time (e.g., here here and in America, too here here), and has multiple secret government agencies desperately defending the realm from these threats. Is anyone in Britain not employed in a supernatural secret service?

This book is the seventh novel about “The Laundry”, and Stross is the absolute master of this genre. His dry wit combines pedestrian bureaucratic process, nerdy tech, and Lovecraftian horrors (i.e., brain suckers with tentacles) into a humorously self consistent alternate reality—overlaid on our everyday world. In this world, a “brain sucking powerpoint presentation” is not a metaphor, it is a terror weapon. Job titles might be “computational daemonologist” or “combat epistomologiest”.

Following the disastrous events recounted in “The Annihilation Score”, the Laundry is rushing to defend against the suite emerging existential threats, code named CASE NIGHTMARE RAINBOW. The increase use of higher mathematics by humans, computers, and nowadays, every damned toaster, is noisily leaking throughout the multiverse, broadcasting the message: “Brains are here, come and get it.”  This loud dinner bell is waking and attracting many powerful forces.

CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN appears to be in progress (see the earlier book “The Annihilation Score”, and other colors of this nightmare stack may be in the offing soon.

The action here mainly unfolds in Leeds, where the Laundry is establishing a new HQ, dispersing assets away from the capital in preparation for eminent catastrophe and war.

Plucky young Alex Schwartz was recruited after the earlier deadly attack on the Laundry (see “The Annihilation Score”), and has rushed into service only half trained. Unfortunately, Leeds turns out to be a lot hotter than expected, and dire events unfold all around Alex. Yikes. CASE NIGHTMARE RED! In Yorkshire!  Taking a new girlfriend to his parents house is not the worst horror he must face (though it is a nightmarish event).

The plot is fast and complex, with the usual dry humor, literate allusions, and calm acceptance of outlandishly crazy paranormal phenomena juxtaposed with monstrous red tape. Alex is much more comfortable dealing with uncanny horrors from beyond than the arcane defenses of his reimbursement forms.

Alex works with other Laundry personnel (all of them pretty darn plucky themselves), and these are interesting and strange people. The Laundry’s “diversity policies” are really, really, really diverse!

The crew at Leeds includes the authors alter ego super-nerds, Pinky and the Brain. How much of these two is autobiographical and how much is just wish fulfillment? (I mean, Stross clearly would love to have a hovercraft and rebuilt Nazi halftrack motorcycle in the garage.  Does he actually have them?).

We have good reason to suspect that Stross had a pleasant visit to Leeds (probably for the anime festival), and may well have scoped out various hideous strip malls, appalling modern architecture, and other sites that deserved to be demolished in his fictional battles.

This is a great story, fun to read and full of human spirit—even if many of the characters are actually “school of” homo sapiens.

Get it, read it, enjoy it. (You probably shoud read everything you can find by Charles Stross.)


  1. Charles Stross, The Nightmare Stacks, New York, Ace Books, 2016.

 

Sunday Book Reviews