Harari is an historian, which is the lens he uses here to think about the future. What he attempts to do is to use the trajectory of human development in the past as a guide to how the future will go. For example, how people have related to animals in the past is taken as a forecast of how future “super-humans” will relate to us. On this point he is fairly comfortable that we have nothing to worry about. But this is a book that is great at stimulating thought and throwing out questions, but not in providing answers. Whether that is a good or a bad thing you would have to decide, but in the course of reading I often stopped to just think about what he said, and about related ideas that came to mind because of what he said.
In the last chapter he goes in a direction somewhat similar to Kevin Kelly in What Technology Wants when Harari discusses what he calls “The Data Religion”, and this quote can give you an idea of what he is thinking here:
“1. Science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma, which says that organisms are algorithms and life is data processing. 2. Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness. 3. Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves.”
This is definitely thought-provoking stuff, but I found this last chapter the least convincing part of the book.
This is the first in the classic Andre Norton Fantasy series, and it sets up the series pretty well. Simon Tregarth is a soldier who got into trouble with the army because of black market activities, and is now being chased by some criminals who are trying to kill him. He knows his time is running out when he is offered an escape via the Siege Perilous, which transports him to another time and space, Witch World. There he joins a faction that is fighting against another group that seems to be somehow getting assistance from another world as well. Are they getting this from Nazis from Earth? I don’t think it is ever clear, but they are definitely baddies.
The Robert Goldsborough books continuing the Nero Wolfe stories of Rex Stout are undoubtedly controversial among fans of Wolfe, but I find them enjoyable enough even if they don’t measure up to the master. Call them a guilty pleasure if you must. In this book, Goldsborough takes some clues from what Stout wrote about Archie’s coming to New York and how he meets up with Nero Wolfe and becomes his assistant. And since Stout never got around to writing this, I had the pleasure of reading it on my Kindle while on a cruise.
This is a classic collection of stories written by a variety of authors in the early part of the twentieth century. Some of the authors are famous (like Mark Twain), others might be known only to mystery afficianados and a few you might never of heard of. But they were the beginning of the industry that has grown up of Sherlock Holmes parodies and pastiches. If you are not a Sherlockian there is very little point in reading this, but to Sherlockians this should be on your list of “must reads”. My rating is therefore given only for my fellow Sherlockians.
Douglas Adams is one of the best writers of humorous Science Fiction (which is how I am classifying this, though you could, I suppose, call it Fantasy). The interesting thing is that Dirk Gently does not appear until about the mid-point of the book, though he is mentioned in passing a few times earlier. And what Adams does here is to take a number of bizarre threads and tie them all together into a story that makes a weird kind of sense when it is all done. And Dirk ends up being smarter than you first think. I plan to read the follow-up, Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.
There aren’t too many people who can write humorous Science Fiction, but Keith Laumer does it in these classic stories. This book starts off the series, and the stories follow a formula, but an enjoyable one. Jame Retief is a lower-level staff member of the diplomatic service Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne, and is the only one who can see clearly the problems they face. His superiors (always including Magnan) are bureaucratic ass-coverers who always follow the procedures, but Retief manages, by ignoring all of that, to save the day in the end. This is the kind of book you don’t need to sit down and read cover-to-cover. Just pick it up and read a story when you want a lift.
This book starts out as a kind of “cousin” to Harry Potter when Quentin Coldwater gets invited to apply to a college for magic. He has done sleight-of-hand stuff for a few years, but this is a place that teaches real magic, and it turns out Quentin can do it. The first half of the book is about his college years, and the people he befriends there. In the second half it becomes a pastiche of Narnia, which is a bit of a change. But while Harry Potter and Narnia makes it sounds like a book for kids, you should know that sex, drugs, and alcoholism all feature in this book, along with some heavy emotional stuff, so use judgement before giving this to a younger reader. One resemblance is that Quentin’s emotional mess is somewhat like Harry Potter’s. In both cases I wanted to just shake them and tell them stop being so maudlin. It is probably OK for mid-teens and older. While this is not a perfect book, it made me want to continue the series.
I was interested to read this book because I know so little of African history, and this was a good introduction to get an overview of that history. Each chapter is written by a different author, which is good for such an expansive topic since the authors each have their own area of expertise. The book starts in pre-history, looking at the archeological data for early humans settlements, and works through Egypt, Rome, the Arabs, and finally black Africa. It winds up in the colonialism of the nineteenth century and then the de-colonization movements of the twentieth century, finally ending around 1970.
This short story helps flesh out some stuff in The Expanse. If you have read Leviathan Wakes, I would read this next. Most obviously it tells the back-story of one of the main characters from that novel, but another thing it does is to explore and explain some features of Belter psychology that are presented in the novel but may not have fully grabbed your attention. It is a short read, but very worthwhile if you want to explore The Expanse.
You may have seen a TV series called The Expanse. Well, this is the book that started it. Kind of. I have been to a few panels with the author team at SF cons (it is two gentlemen using the James S.A. Corey pseudonym), and I think this all started as a computer game, then they turned it into a book, and then someone really smart realized this could be an awesome TV series. Well, a series that awesome must have come from a pretty good book, and this is one I could not put down. It is great space opera in an area not being covered much these days. It is set in a world where the solar system is being settled, but no one has yet left the solar system. All of the settlements seemed to me to be very plausible. There is one invention you have to give them, the Epstein Drive. But even that is not some kind of hand-waving FTL, it is fully consistent with physics as we know it. Journeys within the solar system take weeks instead of years, but everything has the feeling of reality.
The book starts with mysteries. A ship is destroyed, but why? A girl is missing, but how does that tie in? And gradually the threads come together. There are plot twists a plenty, and an ending that caught me completely by surprise. I have to get started on the second book of the series now.