Need something to read for the holidays? Here’s my list of (mostly) Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books I read during 2014
Summer is here.
Well in theory at least, because looking outside where it currently is about 14° Celsius and pouring with rain, you could be forgiven for having your thoughts turn to blankets and hot coco…
But, maybe you still have some holidays to come at more sunny destinations, and you’re wondering what to pack to read besides the pool… Maybe my reading list of the past 6 month can help you.
- The Neon Court (Matthew Swift #3) – Kate Griffin (3/5) – Book 3 in this series brings not really anything new, so read if you read the previous 2 and liked them. After this book I’ll still read book 4, but unless something new is done to the series and the characters, this series is starting to feel like it has run its course and has now settled into the “oh-no-another-big-monster-is-here-to-destroy-London” modus. I’m sure there’s plenty of people for whom that is a-ok, not for me.
- The Republic of Thieves (Gentlemen Bastard #3) – Scott Lynch (4/5) – The very long awaited part 3 in this series. The guy can surely create an immersive mood, and this book still brings plenty of new things to the world and the characters to maintain interest. My biggest gripe with the series is that Scott Lynch killed quite a few characters in the first book, and now seems to have had second thoughts about that, resulting in very long flashbacks telling parallel stories from when those characters were still alive… Those stories lack tension as you know the characters are safe from any harm, and they do kinda drag down the tempo for the current time story.
- Devil Said Bang (Sandman Slim #4) – Richard Kadrey (4/5) – Like I said for some of the books above, I like series as long as they don’t become too formulaic and are able to deliver something new. This series has been a great series overall, and I’m still curious to see where it goes after this one.
- Locke & Key (Trade paperback editions vol. 1 – 6) – Joe Hill (5/5) – Against the backdrop of a recent family drama, a mother and her kids move in with her brother-in-law in Keyhouse, an old mansion in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. There they get entangled in an ancient supernatural plot. For me it pressed all the right buttons, from the artwork to the characters, the little stories, as well as the overarching one of course. Really highly recommended.
- The Shining – Stephen King (5/5) – With the publication of Doctor Sleep, I came to the sudden realization I never actually read The Shining. Of course I have seen the Kubrick movie as well as the miniseries produced by Stephen King himself, but I didn’t want to base my expectations of the following to this iconic book on derivative versions, so I just had to first read it. I can now better appreciate why King doesn’t agree with the changes Kubrick made in his movie adaptation – I’m convinced those objections are more of a personal nature than artistic, and have everything to do with his recovery from alcoholism. Anyway, this book is a masterpiece, both from a story & character view as well as from a mastery of language point of view. Should have read this sooner, glad I still finally did.
- Doctor Sleep – Stephen King (4/5) – As a King novel I could have easily given this 5 out of 5 marks, because the story is great: Dan Torrance, years after The Shining, now a recovering alcoholic like his dad, works as a caregiver in a hospice and uses his diminished powers to ease the dying of the patients, until he meets a young girl with phenomenally strong powers and gets involved in a life and death fight with a “vampiric” gang of creatures traveling the US in RVs, feeding on the lifeforce of people with the Shining… The development of the Dan Torrance character is perfect and believable, but as a following to The Shining, it’s the lesser of the 2. I’m sure King could easily have written this story without it being a sequel. Still, recommended.
- The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne #1) – Mark Hodder (3/5) – Part of the current explosion of Steampunk books, so if you’re into that, you might want to read this. The first half of the book is quite interesting as the world is built and explained. The introduction of the main characters is also done in an interesting way, but when the story is supposed to get really going, I had the feeling it got stuck in endless repetition (the book deals with time travel, so even though it was on purpose, it got tedious) . Someone should start realizing that truly a lot of books could benefit from a tough editor!
- Wool – Hugh Howey (3/5) – Hailed as a new hero who started out self-publishing this book and got instant fame and a multiple book deal. The story is alright, but it’s all a bit too see-through and way too black and white in its moralizing. It’s a cool concept, but hardly a harsh dystopian future story, for that it feels way too much like a fantasy allegory.
- By Light Alone – Adam Roberts (3/5) – What would happen if famine could be a thing of the past, simply by getting a treatment that turns your hair into a source of food capable of sustaining you through a form of photosynthesis? Apparently the uber-wealthy would shave off their hair and fill their days with eating, while the poor would lay around, growing their hair trying to get as much energy as possible. Underneath it all lays a serious comment on our current society of inequality. While that notion is interesting in itself the story has a hard time bringing it alive.
- Joyland – Stephen King (5/5) – Waw, the discovery of 2014 for me. Set in the 1970s it follows a student on his summer job at an amusement park where he gets confronted with the legacy of a vicious murder and the fate of a dying child. It’s a cross between a whodunit and a coming-of-age story. It was warm, emotional, exciting with a fragile and sad ending. If you like stories like Stand by Me, this is surely for you.
- Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy #1) – Jeff VanderMeer (3/5) – This 3 part series has had all kinds of descriptions and comparisons thrown at it, ranging from being likened to “Lost” to being called Lovecraftian. I guess it’s all true, but that doesn’t necessarily make it great. Still, it’s packed in a short enough book so that it never has the chance to become tedious. Color me curious enough to read number 2 soon.
Anything you would recommend to me?
Election fever runs rampant here in Belgium as we’re heading towards the mother of all elections, combining local, regional, national and European elections all in one go.
All the political bickering, lies and posturing has got me thinking though, and I’ve been doing quite some thinking and reading to get me up to speed. I take my vote seriously, and I refuse to vote out of habit or just because “I kinda like that guy’. Whoever takes seats at any of the levels will be there for several years, making decisions that will impact me and my family. So I’ve been doing some research into who says what, and why and what the implications are.
My political preference has always been on the right side of the center, but could it be that these guys are getting progressively more blind to the complete social and economic inequality we’re spiraling into? In all honesty, all parties it seems are almost exclusively focusing on the middle-class, either as heroes that deserve more, or villains that should pay their fair share (implying they currently don’t). Thereby conveniently forgetting about the really, really rich, or in the case of some extreme left-wing parties making them into such a caricature that nobody takes those parties seriously.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suddenly subscribing to the tired “the strongest shoulders must carry the heaviest burden”-statement that unions and left-winged politician quickly come up with when asked how to deal with this. In this case I’m always reminded of what Sam Seaborn in The West Wing has to say about that, namely that working people with a high income are already paying for the upkeep of several people, when is it enough.
The inequality is in reality more complex and more sinister as well.
Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, currently #1 in the NY Bestseller’s list main statement is “The main driver of inequality–returns on capital that exceed the rate of economic growth–is again threatening to generate extreme discontent and undermine democratic values.”
In other words, amassing huge piles of money simply through no other economic action other than already having huge piles of money is creating an unbridgeable gap between the rich and the rest and will more than probably lead to serious social unrest if not addressed.
And this group of people has been clumped together in the One Percent. But it turns out that this is a bit too easy, as it’s actually the top one percent of the One Percent who are in this situation.
So, I do agree that something needs to be done about the social and economic inequality, but I fear that politicians will have neither the will or guts to tackle the 0,01%. Because as Michael Straczynski wrote on Facebook, this group has become The New Aristocracy, able to mold the political and legal system completely to their own wishes.
So far I have not heard one political party really acknowledge this problem, let alone having had anything useful to say in the way of a solution…
But Charles Stross had some interesting things to say in relation to Piketty’s book and what he thinks should be done to ease the potentially destructive situation.
As the story goes, in 1919 Count Camillo Negroni entered his regular watering hole in Florence (still there as the Caffè Cavalli), and asked the bartender to beef up his regular Americano and swap out the club soda for some gin. Voila, the Negroni was born.
While we’ve been enjoying exceptional good weather the past few weeks, I’ve already retired my Fair Isle sweaters from my wardrobe and swapped my flannel suits for my summer jackets, and likewise I’ve stopped drinking wintery cocktails and am once again going for the ones that remind me of summer.
Since our holidays last year near Florence, one of my favorite summer drinks is the Negroni, and after returning home I’ve been tinkering with it, trying to refine it to the max.
In all honesty, there’s not a whole lot to be done with it, the drink is what it is, equal parts sweet vermouth, Campari and gin, neat or on ice (I prefer it on ice), and finished with an orange peel. So, I’ve been looking for the right ingredients, as with this drink I believe the devil is really in the details.
First of all, there really is no substitute for the Campari. I’m a sucker for more exclusive ingredients, but I’ve found that Campari is basically the best “Campari” for this drink. In for instance a Boulvardier I prefer Gran Classico Bitter, but it’s just not bitter enough for a Negroni.
The sweet vermouth is a bit the same story, I’ve tried it with Antica Formula, but it’s too sweet and the vanilla doesn’t really have a place in a Negroni. So I’m using basic Dolin Red Vermouth.
The Gin however, now that’s a different story. The taste of the Campari is quite strong, so you can go 2 ways; either you use a gin that has enough oomph to still cut through it, or you go for maximum complementarity. So far I’ve only had one gin that really could withstand the Campari, and that is Blackwood’s Vintage Dry Gin. At 60% (that’s 120 proof) it’s strong enough to still come through but it still doesn’t overpower.
If you prefer to make a really well integrated Negroni, I’ve come across 2 gins you might want to dig for. Both are the direct result of one day not having any oranges in the house, so adding a grapefruit peel instead. The resulting flavor was a revelation, as I think the grapefruit adds a wonderful, yet subtle difference to the classic Negroni – still bitter yet somewhat more fruity than the orange peel which flavor frankly just disappears in the Campari.
That’s how I went looking for a gin that would enhance this flavor, and so I found Jensen’s Old Tom Gin which has a lovely fruity flavor and is slightly sweet.
And very recently I discovered Buss N° 509 Pink Grapefruit gin, a lovely pink gin with nice hints of citrus fruits, which goes great with the grapefruit peel. This creates an extremely well integrated Negroni, so smooth and fresh you might wonder where the gin went.
Classical cocktails surely aren’t boring, but once in a while they can be improved upon (without going overboard, and with means at the disposal of a home bar) so what are you doing to bring those classics into the 21st century?
Recently Gartner has been harping on about the economic and technological impact the Internet of Things (IoT) will have in the coming years.
For those of you who need a quick reminder of what this IoT-thing is all about, it comes down to plugging communication and computation capabilities into all kinds of everyday devices, and allowing them to interact with the user or even other devices, directly or by being hooked up to the internet, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The example long thrown around is the fridge that monitors its content and orders stuff you are about to run out of. Nowadays of course, we are hooking more and more stuff up to the internet, like your camera, TV and Blu-ray player, but also your running shoes or your heating thermostat. And everyday more applications are added to this list.
It creates possibilities in user-interaction, or user-friendliness never before possible – I mean being able to remotely turn down the thermostat in your house and lower the blinds can have its advantages, no?
But maybe there’s also a downside to this. IT-security is currently an ever growing concern for companies, so now add to the current stack of computers and servers in danger of viruses and malware, about 26 billion devices who have often been created with anything but IT-security in mind, and this is bound to be a recipe for serious disaster.
Charles Stross, a science fiction author with a degree in computer sciences, often writing about a world “15 minutes in the future” as he puts it himself, had some interesting points about the dark side of this Internet of Things (especially the report about the spambot hidden in an electric kettle)…