Tag Archives: Terry Pratchett

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: “The Shepherd’s Crown” by Terry Pratchett

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

I wasn’t sure I really could bear to read this, Terry Pratchett’s last book. We miss him, and every word is against the background of sadness that we will never have more.

The story itself touches on death and remembrance, which was even sadder.

However, as always, Pratchett is teaching us about life and death, and how to do both of them as well as we can. As humanly as we can.

If there was any doubt about his fading skills, they were quickly dispersed. This is fine, full fledged Terry Pratchett.  (This book is classified as for “young adults”.  Don’t pay any attention to that.  It’s for everyone, including young adults.)

The story is about the coming of age of young witch Tiffany Aching, who must take up all the responsibilities of an adult witch, and also face a dire threat from the other side. But we know Tiffany by now, and we know she is well prepared and has friends.

Life is not always pretty, nor are outcomes certain. But Tiffany draws strength from her land and her people, and we feel that she will be alright.

Alas, we will never know more about her and the others, for the master storyteller is gone for good. Everything ends, often before we are ready. But we have our memories, and the stories mattered. And we are inspired to do better and make things better.

Goodbye Tiff, goodbye Discworld, goodbye Terry.


 

  1. Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd’s Crown, New York, Harper, 2015.

 

Book Reviews: Three Old But Good Books

Here are three books in the category, “if you haven’t read these, go get them immediately and read them right now.” I believe these all won awards, too, but that’s not important. Just read them.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

One of the best books of the Twentieth Century, not least because it was a collaboration of two of the finest writers of the 20th.

These two master story tellers recount the coming of the end of the world (much on our minds as the millennium approached). In this case, the world apparently will end in neither water nor fire nor ice, but in irony.

Who can forget the Four Motorcyclists of the Apocalypse, marvelously updated to the late twentieth century, or the reaction of Satan’s representative to software licenses:

Crowley had been extremely impressed with the warranties offered by the computer industry, and had in fact sent a bundle Below to the department that that drew up the Immortal Soul agreements, with a yellow memo form attached just saying: ‘Learn, guys.’

Underneath the slapstick and satire there is a steely core of humanity and the beauty and morality you expect from these gentlemen.

Awesome.  Thank you, sirs.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

O’Malley is an Aussie and a civil servant and gives us a very peculiar tale from the hidden magical government of England. Go figure.

This story follows a rather bad couple of weeks in the life of Myfanwy Thomas (rhymes with ‘Tiffany’), who wakes up with no memory and a letter to her from herself.

She has to quickly learn that she is part of a secret organization (the Checquy) in constant battle to protect Britain from supernatural attacks.

The tale is wonderfully funny, as the supernatural is wild and very weird and her side is—wait for it—a bureaucracy. She must unravel a massive conspiracy and unmask the evil doers, within and without her own organization. Who is who and what is what? And for goodness sake, what are the rules, anyway?

This is a great yarn, and we come to really like Myfanwy and want her to come out OK.

Evidently, a sequel is in preparation, though who knows when it will appear.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

This is one of several novels about time travelling academic/time police, which includes several stories and Doomsday Book (1992).

This particular story was inspired by Jerome K. Jerome’s gentle Victorian novel Three Men in a Boat (which I have never read myself).

These stories involve time traveling Oxford historians, who visit past eras and live among the natives, attempting to blend in. This is a perilous game, both for the traveler and because a mistake might rip apart time and space. In particular, you mustn’t contaminate either the present or the past by transferring objects.

To Say Nothing of the Dog involves an emergency foray to the Victorian era by an underbriefed student who must try not to stumble and also to find his contact and try to fix the potential rend in time.

The story is a beautiful homage to Jerome’s story, and filled with comically English Victorians. It would all be lovely if the fate of the continuum wasn’t at stake, and if we knew what the heck is going on.


 

  1. Daniel O’Malley, The Rook. Hachette, New York, 2012.
  2. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, New York, Workman, 1990.
  3. Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog, New York, Bantam Spectra, 1997.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

RIP Terry Pratchett

I will join the chorus of tributes at the passing of the great Terry Pratchett.

This prolific author was clearly one of the finest writers in the English language, his writing is the very essence of the term “wit”.  Sly, understated, and funny, his fictional world was (is!) so deeply and beautifully human it made me a better person to have read him.

There is no need to review his life work.  There is too much, and I loved all of it.  If you haven’t read Pratchett, then, for goodness sake stop right now and  goread everything  of his that you can get.  it’s important.

It is sad to see him go.  But he lived well, and surely was loved by millions.  We all must die eventually, we cannot do better than to be live on in beautiful stories.

The main thing I regret is that there won’t be any more Pratchett to read.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Third Quarter Summary

This quarter June – September) featured commentary on papers and web articles, much of it about cryptocurrencies, “remittance” and other sociotechnical topics.

I published an article in  the July issue of Very Much Wow magazine, “You Shall Not Crucify The Internet On This Cross of Bitcoin“, pp. 34-37.

I reviewed quite a few books this quarter in this blog,

Fiction

Adultery by Paulo Coelho
California by Edan Lepucki
Koko Takes A Holiday by Kieran Shea
Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn
On The Razor’s Edge by Michael Flynn
Palimpsest by Catherynn M. Valente
Sleeping Late On Judgment Day by Tad Williams
Space Opera ed by Rich Horton
Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark
The Intern’s Handbook by Shane Kuhn
The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Outsourcerer’s Apprentice by Tom Holt
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The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross
The Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

Nonfiction

Operation Shakespeare: The True Story of an Elite International Sting by John Shiffman
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch by Lewis Dartnell
The Myth of Mirror Neurons by Gregory Hickok
The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright’s Universe by Dan Falk
You Can Data Boys When You’re Forty by Dave Barry

Books: Roughing It: Dreams of Mars and Earth

Midsummer reading includes several books that turned out to have a lot to say about exploration, survival, and generally booting up “civilization”.

The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

This is the third book, after Long Earth and Long War, and certainly there is more to come.

In this story we follow a long reconnaissance out the Long Earth, and another on the Long Mars. Interestingly, the alternative Mars lines do not seem to be tied to the Long Earth, that is, if you step back to the place that would be ‘Datum Earth, that would not be ‘Datum Mars’ at all, but some other, far removed Mars. The steps on the two planets are independent, except each sequence joins at one Earth-Mars pair. And infinity of infinities, or something like that.

It is all totally baffling to the point that it is difficult to even fathom what is going on. How can the splitting be localized, with a new / alternative time line for each local space? What in the world would the planet you are on have to do with alternate universes? And if the splitting is local, then why would it be “per planet” rather than per individual mind or whatever is causing the splits?  I don’t understand.

The long treks step through zillions of alternative planets, playing out alternate geological and evolutionary scenarios. As expected, there is awesome weirdness to be found, and that is fun to read. And I do mean “awesome” and I do mean “weird”.

There are other developments happening, as a new superhuman race has emerged. This is supposedly a human mutation, presumably released by and/or triggered by stepping. The supposed genetic mutation makes little sense to me, but the new people (“the Next”) are very weird and scary.   What can or should be done about them?

The Martian by Andy Weir

 First e-published as and e-book, this novel appears in mass market book this summer.

This book is a massive, massive geek out, full of technical puzzle solving that will appeal to engineers and handy persons, if not the general public.  It certainly appealed to me.

A freak accident leaves one astronaut on Mars, alone, no radio, no way home. A 21st century Robinson Crusoe, with endless techie details.

The story of his struggle to stay alive involves a long series of adaptations and hacks on Mars, and, once he is discovered to be alive, frantic efforts on Earth to get him out in time. Time and distance make it a TENSE story.

The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell

By coincidence, I was reading “The Knowledge” this month, which turns out to mesh quite nicely with the books above.

Dartnell’s general idea is to write out the basic “how to” for recreating a reasonable standard of living, in the event that most of humanity—with the concomitant knowledge—is wiped out. With the right information, the survivors do not need to recapitulate the trial and error and centuries of development. We can jump right to the good stuff.

This isn’t about “prepping”, it’s about what happens after some people get through the disaster. How do you rebuild? What do you need to know?

Just as a marooned astronaut would be forced to apply general knowledge to boot up air, heat, food, water, and so on, decent living requires problem solving to meet these same needs. Fortunately, on Earth we have so much more to work with, and are in our native environment.

Dartnell writes remarkably well, so well that it was actually interesting even though I have not the slightest personal interest in his premise.   He painlessly explains the fundamental chemistry and biology and so on underlying our survival, which helps us understand what is inside the complex systems we live by.

He also has an interesting web site, http://the-knowledge.org.

One caveat: many of the processes he describes so blithely are quite dangerous and should not be tried at home. And perhaps this book should be kept out of the hands of children.  (Not that that will do any good–the smart ones will find this information anyway.

It’s one thing to try to reboot industrial chemistry and engineering after the Fall, but please don’t play with this stuff unless you have a lot of space far from other people. We will not be pleased to breathe your Chlorine and acidic fume or drink your poorly processed runoff. And you will probably burn down your house and possible blow yourself up.


1. Dartnell, Lewis, The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch, New York, The Penguin Press, 2014.

2. Pratchett, Terry and Stephen Baxter, The Long Mars, New York, HarperCollins, 2014.

3. Weir, Andy, The Martian, New York, Random House, 2014.