Tag Archives: Paolo Bacigalupi

Housekeeping: First Quarter Roundup

This quarter saw the usual discussions of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology and sociology.  There are an increasing amount of academic studies of this technology (finally!), which are producing important findings.  Not that the enthusiasts are paying attention.

There is also a constant stream of discoveries and studies of dinosaurs and ancient birds, which I enjoy reading.


And, as usual, I regularly review books I have recently read.

Fiction

The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell
Good Guys by Steven Brust
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
The Cackle of Cthulhu edited by Alex Shvartsman
A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman
Bonfire by Krysten Ritter
Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
The Pope of Palm Beach by Tim Dorsey
The Man From The Diogenes Club by Kim Newman
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Dark State by Charles Stross
The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry
Quillifer by Walter Jon Williams
Celestial Mechanics by William Least Heat-Moon

Non fiction

How To Plan A Crusade by Christopher Tyerman
The Earth is Weeping by Peter Cozzens
Ada’s Algorithm by James Essinger


The ongoing list of great names for a band continues, inspired by Dave Barry. Here are a bunch, mostly taken from real scientific or technical papers.

The Adversarial Patches
Psychedelic toasters (this one has probably has already been used)
Judicious Design of Nanofins
        (or perhaps, Righteous Design of Nanofins or just Nanofins)
Rapid genome downsizing
Diffusivity of Water in Air
The Gymnosperms
SETI-XNAV
Pulsar Positioning System
Galactic Positioning System
Mushroom Body
A Spritz of Octopamine
Hebbian Learning
Neuromodulator
The Possible Ecologies of Mars
Ornament Evolution

 

 

Book Review: “The Tangled Lands” by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell

The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell

Paolo Bacigalupi’s stories are dark and troubling, and usually feature ecological disaster and humans living in the aftermath. (E.g., earlier stories such as The Windup Girl or The Water Knife.)

This collaboration with Tobias S. Buckell delivers what I would expect.

The Tangle Lands is set in a detailed fantasy world where magic works, with a big catch:  a deadly, invasive giant bramble has evolved to consume magic (and also paralyze people).  The more magic, the more bramble grows.  Using magic to destroy the bramble simply boomerangs, attracting even more.

These brambles have overcome great cities and empires, and seem to threaten all human life.  The only know solution is to stop using magic.

But magic is not only addictive and used by powerful sorcerers, it is needed in everyday life.  There is always a good reason to want to use “just a little” magic.  It cures illness and fixes troubles.  But if everyone uses “just a little”, it adds up and the brambles will overrun everything.

In short, Bacigalupi and Buckell have created a poetic parable that captures the sort of hard, hard issues encountered in contemporary technology and ecology.  It is particularly delicious to contemplate how natural selection has evolved species to exploit an abundant resource (magic).  Duh!  Of course it would!

In this world, people struggle to get by in different ways.  The authors have worked out an intricate and believable society with culture, religions, and power structures. There is also war, slavery, prostitution, and every other normal human malady—and all are deeply warped by the ubiquitous eco-disaster.

One city kills everyone caught using magic (except the monarch).  Another is dominated by a virulent religion that indoctrinates children (kidnapped if necessary) in “the way”.  Suicide and mercy killings are rife.  Desperate, starving refugees abound. And so on.

The stories themselves are mostly about little people in this hard world, trying to get by and live a decent life. These are pretty dark stories overall, with a lot of tragedy, pain, violence, and loss.  With little hope of good outcomes, it’s painfully hard to read these tales.  The saving grace is the indomitable human spirit and sparks of human love, kindness, and courage.

This book is a interesting collaboration of these two authors. Reportedly, these guys worked together over a number of years to create the world with its ecology, society, and the backstory. The collection is two stories each by Bacigalupi and Buckell, set in this lavishly detailed fantasy world they created. The four separate stories are beautifully similar in tone and theme, and, of course, perfectly aligned with the fictional world.

This is a very fine book, topnotch fantasy.


  1. Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell, The Tangled Lands, New York, Saga Press, 2018.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Books Reviewed 2015

Here is  housekeeping post, collecting all the books reviewed here in 2015.

Looking back at this list, I see that this year saw Terry Pratchette’s last book (a wrenching experience), and new novels by old favorites Stross, Perry, Macguire, Holt, Gaiman, among others. I also read older but still good histories by Goodwin and Graeber. I read several books about banking, Papal and otherwise, and overlapping works about Italy, fictional and (supposedly) real.

Over the year, I reviewed a sampling of important books about contemporary digital life, including cryptocurrency, the “sharing economy”, social media, and “mind change”.   These works covered a spectrum from enthusiasm to dark worry, giving us much to think about. There are many more I did not have time or energy for. (I will say more on this topic in another post)

Throughout 2015 I continued my ongoing investigation of the question, “what is coworking?”, including reviews of two recent (self published) books about coworking by practitioners. (More on coworking in another post.)

Shall I name some “Best Books” out of my list? Why not?

Fiction:

There were so many to pick from. I mean, with Neil Gaiman in the list, how can I choose? But let me mention two that are especially memorable

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Very imaginative and well written, and, for once, not so horribly dark. This book lodged in my memory more than others that are probably equally good.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Published a few years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. A wonderful, intricate story. The flight of the parrot is still in my memory.

Nonfiction:

There were many important works about digital life, and I shall try to comment on them in another post. But three books that really hit me are:

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
From several years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. Highly influential on the ‘occupy’ and other left-ish thinking. This is an astonishingly good book, and long form anthropology, to boot. Wow!

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
An exlectic little self-published book about “home coworking”, which I didn’t know was a thing. Kane walked the walk, and made me think in new ways about community and coworking.

Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Unexpected amounts of fun reading this short book. It does an old, graying nerd no end of good to see that at least some of the kids are OK. Really, really, OK.

List of books reviewed in 2015

Fiction

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Corsair by James L. Cambias
Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
Diaspora by Greg Egan
Distress by Greg Egan
Electric Blue by Nancy Bush
Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey
String of Beads by Thomas Perry
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Ultraviolet by Nancy Bush
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Witches Be Crazy by Logan J. Hunder
Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Non Fiction

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner
LaFayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry
Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield
Mindsharing by Lior Zoref
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
No More Sink Full of Mugs by Tony Bacigalupo
Not Impossible by Mick Ebeling
Pax Technica by Phillip N. Howard
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Speculative Everything by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen
The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee
Twentyfirst Century Robot by Brian David Johnson
Women of Will:  Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer

 

Book Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books Reviewed Third Quarter

Books Reviewed Third Quarter

A bit of housekeeping:  here is a list of all the book reviews that appeared in this blog in Q3 2015.  Mostly new or recent releases, with a few old but good thrown in.

Fiction

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman 
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore  
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley 
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu 
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis 

Non fiction

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield 
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin 
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen 

 

Book Review: “The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Bacigalupi new novel is set in the near future in the Southwest United States, when today’s drought has become chronic and the shortage of water has become desperate.

The wealthy and powerful live in tall, self-contained skyscraper arcologies, powered by abundant solar energy and efficiently recycling water. Everyone else scramble for metered water, the lucky ones with decent filters and masks against the dust and ash from forest fires. It’s horrible.

Not surprisingly, society has broken down, as everyone fights for water, and millions of refugees have no where to flee and exist in relief camps. Ironically, given today’s politics, the borders of Texas and Arizona are sealed by their neighbors, to prevent migration. National Guard and militias patrol the borders of the states, and only those with connections or money can get out.

Bacigalupi tells a tense and violent story of three people, caught up in a complex and lethal search for a treasure worth more than gold—old, senior water rights. If real, they could mean the life or death of whole cities and millions of people. Needless to say, people kill and die for this treasure, not to mention blackmail and betray each other.

I was moved to like many of the characters, and wish they could get out and be safe, though almost no one can be safe. The graphic violence including torture made it difficult to read in some places. The horror is obviously integral to the story (ecological disaster means the end of civil life), but I’m not sure all the details were necessary.

Overall this is an unforgettable read, well written, carefully imagined. I didn’t even mind the lectures about the Cadillac Desert.

By the way, if you willingly move to the desert after reading this book, I think you deserve everything you get.


 

  1. Paolo Bacigalupi,, The Water Knife, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

 

Sunday Book Reviews