the booklist    

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Wherein Colin flatters his vanity and experiments with HTML.


Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum
  'You just . . . killed someone?' said Agnes.
  'Of course. We are vampires,' said Vlad. 'Or, we prefer, vampyres. With a "y". It's more modern.'

Pratchett takes a rapier to Goth pretensions by way of warm-up, but is really after bigger game: the dark and mesmerising power of style, beauty and popularity. I rave about Pratchett all the time. This is good stuff. Just read it.

Connie Willis, Impossible Things
Connie Willis is funny, cruel, and mercilessly sharp. Read her.
Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn
Okay, the blurbification on the back cover calls it ``enchanting'', ``unforgettable'', and ``an enduring tale ... of the special magic that burns deep within every heart,'' so naturally I was nervous. But, thank heavens, Mr Beagle seems to have understood that to approach this stuff without a sense of humour is to kill it. And how can you not love a tale that features, for example, the leader of an outlaw band in the woods that worries about his PR in terms like this:
One always hopes, of course, even now -- to be collected, to be verified, annotated, to have variant versions, even to have one's authenticity doubted ... well, well, never mind. Sing the other songs, Willie lad. You'll need the practice one day, when you're field-recorded.
I kind of wish I had an imaginative 13-year-old on my Christmas list, just to give this book to. Is that corny, or what?
Martin Wells, Civilisation and the Limpet
A nifty little set of essays about, well, marine invertebrates. Reminds me of a more innocent version of Hans Zinsser, Rats, Lice, and History.
Robert Sawyer, Factoring Humanity
This one is another of Michael's picks. Sawyer is no prose stylist -- this is a deceptively simple novel full of big ideas about trust and betrayal, accusation, forgiveness, and unreliable memory.
Sean Stewart, Resurrection Man
Jessica recommended this one to me; good call. People don't have fates -- fates have people. A novel of the price and rewards of talent, and the futility of refusing the bargain.
Paul Theroux, The Pillars of Hercules
A travelogue of a voyage around the Mediterranean. It took me a couple of stabs at this book before I finally found the right frame of mind to get all the way through this book. The first time I picked it up I was hoping for comedy, don't ask me why I expected that, but the closest Theroux ever comes is a kind of sardonicism. If you can handle his self-conscious intellectual arrogance, Theroux has a wonderfully observant eye and a knack for thumbnail sketches of the people and places he comes across.
Tim Cahill, A Wolverine is Eating my Leg
A collection of magazine articles, the most striking being a first-hand report of the aftermath of the Jonestown mass suicide.
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Read this on the plane flying to Boston -- was shorter than I thought; I practically finished it before we took off.
Terry Pratchett, Johnny and the Dead
Okay, this is a young adult novel, right? A juvenile, written for kids 12-15ish. It's only 190 pp, it's light and funny, and the plot's not very complicated. But there's nobody like Pratchett for layering in acute character analysis, devastatingly clear-eyed social commentary, and ultimately optimistic philosophical musings that somehow never gets in the way of the jokes. How the hell does he do it? The man is amazing.
Johnny blinked. And looked around at the world.
   It was, not to put too fine a point on it, wonderful. Which wasn't the same as nice. It wasn't even the same as good. But it was full of . . . stuff. You'd never get to the end of it. It was always springing new things on you . . .

Thanks to Steve Orso for tracking it down for me.
David Brin, Heaven's Reach
Brin finally resolves the voyage of Streaker, begun in Startide Rising back in 1983, and answers a raft of questions we've been waiting more than a decade and a half to understand -- just why do the Galactics care so much about the Shallow Cluster, anyway? And yet he has a knack for letting the answers raise yet more interesting questions, and is perhaps second only to Iain Banks for evoking the true immensity of the Galaxy. Heaven's Reach is a sprawling roller-coaster of high space opera, and finishes with more loose ends than I can count. It fits Brin's sense of realism to have it that way, but still, can this really be the last Uplift book? Perhaps well enough is now best left alone.
Will Ferguson, Why I Hate Canadians
Sarcastic, funny, perceptive, and ultimately hopeful dissection of Canada. Highly recommended. ``It all comes down to your standard of comparison. Canadians appear tidy, timid and soft-spoken only when standing next to Americans, in much the same way that I look slim when standing next to a sumo wrestler.'' (A reread.)
Tim Cahill, Pass the Butterworms: Remote Journeys Oddly Rendered
Tim Cahill makes me sickeningly envious on every other page, possibly excepting the one in which he describes catching malaria in Irian Jaya. I am now compelled to learn sea kayaking.
Guy Gavriel Kay, Sailing to Sarantium
A rare treat. Guy Kay writes the best fantasy going, musical, soaring, glorious, and intensely personal. What is this book about? Ambition, daring, competence, unsought gifts, great prizes won, simple boons denied, love, loss, sacrifice and transformation -- all the good stuff, as William Goldman would put it. Sadly, it is Book One of a trilogy, and Kay does not write fast. I await impatiently.
Tom Weller, Science Made Stupid
Tom Weller, Culture Made Stupid
Clever parodies of science and art written with an appreciation of the material being parodied, somewhat hit-and-miss but I think the hits make them worthwhile.
Mark Twain, Following the Equator
Hm. I seem not to have managed to finish any books in August. Ah well. Following the Equator is 720 pp; I hope I get credit for that. Very very cool book; I have praised it elsewhere and quoted from it at length.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Brothers in Arms
Lois McMaster Bujold, Cetaganda
Lois McMaster Bujold, The Warrior's Apprentice
Lois McMaster Bujold, The Vor Game
I was in the mood for more Miles, so I went back to my shelf. It had been a while; a marathon re-reading seemed to be in order.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Komarr
Ah, Bujold. A Bujold novel is like a big, juicy hamburger. Not one of those chewy hockey pucks they give you at McDonalds, but a textured half-pounder fresh off the barbeque, with real cheese and lettuce and pickles and tomatoes and onions and three different sauces for a mixture of tangy sweet flavours. It goes down so easy you might not even notice you really are getting all your basic food groups in one hefty satisfying fistful. Who needs junk food? Have another helping of Miles.
Anton Chekhov, Five Great Short Stories
What can I say in review of Chekhov that won't sound fatuous? "He writes brilliantly, and does a much better job of keeping it short than say, Tolstoy or Dostoyevski." Right, whatever. I do like this kind of thing in small doses, which this was.
I found a copy of Moby Dick in the bargain bin yesterday; I suppose I'm going to have to work up some ambition to tackle that one.
David Brin, The Transparent Society
Brin's argument against the fashionable notion that encryption is the key to a brighter future. Well argued, with a refreshing awareness of history, science, and his own fallibility; perhaps somewhat wordier than strictly necessary, but then I suppose I'm one of those scientists he bemoans as his most difficult audience. At any rate, he has saved me from temptation by the cypherpunk ideology, which makes this one of my most personally influential books of the year, alongside Greenspun.
Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent
Ponder Stibbons meets the atheist god of evolution and Rincewind saves Australia. Takes a while to get going, but the one-liners are as sharp as ever and the aftertaste is pleasant. So what if it doesn't match the incandescent brilliance of Small Gods or Men at Arms? Even the Master's minor works are instructive.
Alistair Maclean, Where Eagles Dare
Classic WWII prisoner-rescue, or something like that. Maclean's plots are as tangled as that ball of twine left too long at the back of the junk drawer.
Alistair Maclean, Ice Station Zebra
Classic spy thriller: nuclear submarine faces saboteurs beneath the Arctic ice cap.
Jerry Pournelle, King David's Spaceship
Yeah, okay, Pournelle. I know. Kind of embarrassing. But what can I say, I've got a weakness for a bit of straight-up military sf once in a while.
Gardner Dozois, ed., The Good Old Stuff: Adventure SF in the Grand Tradition
Collection of classic stories from 1948-71 (the year I was born, incidentally). It's striking how much better the later stories are than the early ones -- there's a steady improvement year-by-year, with a real watershed in characterisation and subtlety occurring somewhere in the early to mid 60s with Le Guin, Leiber, Zelazny and Tiptree. The most strikingly precocious, though, is James Schmitz's "Second Night of Summer", which has the nerve to let a grandmother be the heroic secret agent that saves civilisation. That would still be pretty remarkable today, never mind among its testosterone-choked early 50's contemporaries.
Edward R. Tufte, Visual Explanations
Another beautiful book of examples of good and bad information design. Well worth reading, though I can't shake the feeling that a reader could get 90% of the practical insight Tufte has to offer by just reading his masterpiece, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, over and over.
Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue Mars
Together with Red Mars and Green Mars, probably the most prodigiously encyclopaedic novel/story/series I've ever read. The plot is subtle and slow and occasionally bogs down in exploring the extraordinary detail of Robinson's world-building; conceivably one needs to be a science geek to truly appreciate the comprehensive authority. Nevertheless it ends well, satisfyingly. Enthusiastically recommended to the persistent: nowhere will you find a more textured and convincing future history nor a better introduction to the real wonder of the Red Planet.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Understood it way better now than I did in high school. But then, I suppose I could say that about pretty much everything that went on in English class. And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth.
Pete Abrams, Sluggy Freelance: Is it not Nifty?
Action. Intrigue. Babes. Monsters. Magic. Fun. Psycho-bunnies. Is it not nifty? Worship the comic.
Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things
Intriguing, relatively short, very readable discussion of how to screw up a door and why modern phone systems suck.
Edward R. Tufte, Envisioning Information
Sort of a beautiful illustrated appendix to Tufte's earlier Visual Display of Quantitative Information, a collection of superlative examples of information design, this time focused on "less-numerical" problems. Once again, the most interesting and eye-opening content is Tufte's dissection and redrawing of a selection of bad examples.
I was going to try to qualify who should read these books, but hell, everyone should. You'll never look at a cheesy timetable or magazine graphic the same way again.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
A lovely, poetic, and only sometimes platitudinous meditation on the practice of Life.
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
An intriguing science-fictional speculation on the culture of Hell, a useful warning against ways people screw up their lives, and Lewis' masterpiece of Christian propaganda all rolled into one.
Ian Tattersall, The Fossil Trail
A readable and interesting (if somewhat dry) historical review of the evidence for human origins.
Philip Greenspun, Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing
It sounds weird to say about a book about web design, but it blew my tiny little mind, and may well have given me a new career. Available on the web at
Paul Mann, The Ganja Coast
It's a crime novel, which is a genre I typically have no interest in. The darkest-India setting is compelling, though.
Joe Haldeman, The Forever War
Haldeman's Vietnam-era novel of military stupidity. A little unsubtle for my taste.
Robert Sawyer, Illegal Alien
Novels of first contact are a lot more sophisticated than they used to be. Sawyer, as usual, bubbles over with nifty ideas.
Terry Pratchett, Jingo
This is Pratchett on top of his game. Nothing more needs to be said. "She was aware that she had a slight advantage over male werewolves in that naked women caused fewer complaints, although the downside was that they got some pressing invitations. Some kind of covering was essential, for modesty and for the prevention of inconvenient bouncing, which was why fashioning impromptu clothes out of anything to hand was a lesser-known werewolf skill."
Robert Farrar Capon, The Third Peacock
A Christian response to the problem of evil. Capon is a self-professed "dogmatic theologian" with an unusually entertaining style and a remarkably relaxed view of what Christianity is all about---strangely comforting for those of us atheists in the audience.
Desmond Bagley, Running Blind
A classic thinking-man's spy novel / whirlwhind adventure tour of Iceland.
Desmond Bagley, Bahama Crisis
Desmond Bagley, The Vivero Letter
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)
The original story about nothing. Three stylish young London sophisticates tangle with a relaxing pastoral holiday, and lose---proving that nothing much has changed in the past 120 years.
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
Richard Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype
James Clavell, Shogun
Matt Ridley, The Origin of Virtue


Dan Simmons, Fall of Hyperion
Charles de Lint, Trader
Wick Allison, Jeremy Adams & Gavin Hambly, ...condemned to repeat it

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