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Book roundup, part 15

Solid reads abound in this installment of the roundup. Includes Console Wars, Your Inner Fish, Flash Boys, Digital Wars, The Perfect Storm, Tower Lord, By Blood We Live, I am Pilgrim and Lexicon.

Console Wars, by Blake Harris ★★★☆☆

The story of how Sega rose to challenge Nintendo’s market dominance in the early 1990s. Well researched and sourced and tells the story of an interesting era in video console gaming.

The book is upfront about how much time has passed since the events it chronicles and that quotes are mostly made up and intended to capture the essence and spirit of conversations rather than being verbatim, which is fine, but unfortunately Harris is far from an Elmore Leonard, so most of the conversations read awkward and odd, which detracts from the immediacy of the narrative in a fatal way.

Console Wars could also have benefited from another proofreading pass—there are instances of missing words and misplaced quote marks in too many places. Though unless you’re plagued with a proofreading eye that won’t shut off, it won’t bother you.

Despite its faults, it’s worth reading for a very interesting look at a pivotal time of video gaming.

Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin ★★★★☆

A wonderful journey back in time through our and our ancestors’ anatomy, Shubin shows how we can trace the shape of our bodies—especially the arms—back through the mists of time.

Your Inner Fish is a wonderful read, unravelling evolution through time with joy and wonder. Highly recommended.

Flash Boys, by Michael Lewis ★★★★☆

This book made me very, very angry, and it will probably do the same to you. As usual, Lewis writes with flair and draws out the human drama in what could be excruciatingly dry material, this time about high frequency trading. Which as it turns out is a parasite on the stock market and thus on our entire global economy.

Flash Boys is required reading.

Digital Wars, by Charles Arthur ★★★★☆

Chronicles the battle between Apple, Google and Microsoft for the future of computing, focusing on search and mobile.

Digital Wars is well sourced, especially inside Microsoft, and reads almost like a techno-thriller in its descriptions of the thinking inside the companies.

Arthus is best sourced inside Microsoft, which is good since that’s the company I’ve paid the least amount of attention to over the last 10 years, and he answers the question of how Microsoft managed to miss the boat so badly in both search and mobile and how it’s attempting to turn things around in those sectors.

If you’re at all interested in the business side of technology, Digital Wars is a given.

The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger ★★★★☆

The tragic story of the Andrea Gail which perished with all hands in the Atlantic “perfect storm” of 1991. It’s a fascinating book that discusses the fishing culture of Massachusetts, the mechanics of fishing boats, the physics of waves, the meteorology of storms, the resources of the coast guard, and the lives of the men aboard the Andrea Gail as it went to its tragic end.

The Perfect Storm is a tragedy, a page turner, and an education. You should read it.

Fiction

Tower Lord, by Anthony Ryan ★★★★☆

Now, this is how you do page-turner fantasy. The follow-up to the excellent Blood Song, Tower Lord continues the story of our hero Vaelin, but expands to the greater struggle in which he’s involved and the secondary characters (some already known and some new) who also play big parts in the larger war to come.

Now, Tower Lord is not as good as Blood Song, let that be said up front. But then, Blood Song was one-in-a-million. Tower Lord moves the story forward and feels a lot like a David Gemmell novel (which is high praise indeed) in its relentless pace and addictiveness. There are way worse authors to emulate, and Tower Lord keeps you turning the pages to the end.

As a sidenote, it’s great to read a story instead of “I wrote down my awesome D&D campaign” which too much modern fantasy consists of. So if you liked Blood Song, get thee to Tower Lord, and if you haven’t experienced Blood Song yet and you like fantasy, run don’t walk to click that mouse.

By Blood We Live, by Glen Duncan ★★★☆☆

The third book in Duncan’s gritty reboot of the Werewolf mythos is as full of gore, sex and literary allusions as the previous novels in the series, The Last Werewolf and Talulla Rising, but while as enthralling and likely to keep you up past your bedtime as the other ones, By Blood We Live stretches the mythology past its breaking point.

There’s (clears throat) prophecy and visions and Oldest Vampire Ever Who is Tired, and it does indeed feel, well, tired.

Nevertheless, if you liked the previous novels, you’ll enjoy this. Just not as much as the previous awesome novels.

I am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes ★★★☆☆

I am Pilgrim should be with you the next time you’re on an airplane or on the beach. It’s a huge, sprawling techno-spy novel and murder mystery rolled into one.

The novel reads like a gritty reboot of classic Robert Ludlum with some Tom Clancy thrown in for good measure.

It’s far from perfect, though: The plot relies enough on coincidences and chance encounters to make you roll your eyes and most characters stay two-dimensional. And if you’re a nerd like me the novel also hurts from some utterly ignorant techno-movements where hard drives start flashing red lights because the CPU is stressed too hard. Ay, ay, ay. Those moments make you doubt all the other Tom Clancy-style Cool Tech Things that happen in the novel.

But be that as it may, it’s a damn fun ride that will have you turning the pages way too late into the night.

Bonus fact: Hayes co-wrote the script for The Road Warrior.

Lexicon, by Max Barry ★★★★☆

Taut and fast-paced with an interesting conceit, but plagued a bit by a confusing plot.

The idea is that our brains are hard-wired to respond to certain words in a way that bypasses our conscious thought and will—anybody who masters the difficult art of using the right words can make anybody do anything.

So naturally there’s a secret organization that rules the world and finds children it trains to become masters of this art.

And then, not surprisingly, things go horribly wrong…

Posted Sunday, 20 July 2014 by

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