Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Old Man's WarI was pleased to finally read this prequel to “The Ghost Brigades” which I read last year.

Like “The Ghost Brigades” I found “Old Man’s War” to be a fairly simple story that explores a world where it is really possible to get a second (and a third and a forth..) chance to live your life.

Set in a future where the human race is competing with myriad other alien races for substantially the same resources, the humans recruit their soldiers from Earth’s seventy year olds and give them new and improved bodies to get the best kind of soldier: One that is physically superb and has the grounding and experience to understand what’s at stake and a stake in the future that they are helping to protect (they pretty much all have children and grandchildren that they want to see survive into the future).

Told exclusively from the point of view of the protagonist,  you will not get lost or confused as to what is going on. Nor is there any need to try to interpret different story threads to try to divine future confluences as you do with the more complex stories told by Peter F. Hamilton or Frank Herbert.

This is an enjoyable, easy read that IMHO speaks to issues that it is absolutely possible that the human race may face one day.

The GOD Delusion

The GOD Delusion“The GOD Delusion” by Richard Dawkins is a superb, if lengthy, look at religion from a rational point of view. By “rational” I mean to say unemotional. One of the things I really like about Dawkins is his ability to express his very well thought out point of view in a cogent and focused fashion.
He takes traditional viewpoints that are often considered as “givens” and explores their biblical roots. Often showing that the contemporary interpretations / assumptions are nearly diametrically the opposite of the expressed meanings in “the good book” or at least completely missing the point that was originally being made.
He further explores our seemingly basic need for something like religion and highlights the divisiveness of the institutions that capitalize upon that need. I’m personally pretty sure that people cannot exist without something like religion. Many people are not nearly so rational as I think Dawkins would hope. But disabusing folks of some of the more destructive aspects of formalized religion is one aspect of the book that I completely agree with and is an agenda that I hope is moved forward by its readers.

Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon“Altered Carbon” by “Richard K. Morgan” is part of his Takeshi Kovacs series. I read the sequel to this book “Woken Furies” late last year. “Altered Carbon” had the main character, Takeshi Kovacs, noticeably less developed and much more of a psychopath in this earlier work.
The novels are entirely from Kovacs’ point of view so you need to be able to identify with the character on at least *some* level, something I was utterly unable to do with this book.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Morgan’s writing style, but I will be giving the remaining book in this series a miss and looking to see if his next offering is more to my taste.

Jumper Griffin’s Story

Jumper Griffin's StoryNot nearly as enthralling as the original “Jumper“, “Jumper Griffin’s Story” by Steven Gould was just “OK”. It was an enjoyable read but the story always remained at a superficial level for me. The book had indicated that it was driven by the movie. There was not much the book had to offer besides IMHO “same old same old”. I think there is a lot more that can be done with the “Jumper” universe. This book failed to explore any of that potential.

Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier

I’ve been working my way through Bruce Schneier’s book for a while. Not due to any shortcomings in the book itself, but rather other distractions have been interfering with my reading for the past few months and I’ve fallen well behind as my “to read” shelf has been growing steadily.

“Beyond Fear” should be required reading for EVERY SINGLE ONE of our legislators. Well… this book and the constitution. Knowledge of both of these tomes would go a long way towards stemming the tide of ridiculous, pandering, appear-to-be-doing-something-ANYTHING laws that seem to flood out of State and Federal government houses each month.

Combining relevant examples with 5 comprehensive steps that should be evaluated as part of any important security assessment, Bruce pragmatically walks the line between impractically crippling defensive measures and vulnerably insecure systems that must be used by myriad folks on a daily basis. He emphasizes our natural tendency to overestimate certain kinds of (ultimately irrelevant) risks while we casually accept on a daily basis risks that are of far greater likelihood and, ultimately, consequence than those we emotionally invest ourselves in.

While Bruce does not say this explicitly, the examples and figures in his book support the statement that I have heard made that “If you read about it in the newspaper, it’s not something you need to worry about.” (BTW, this can apply to positive things too, like reading about someone winning the lottery). The only reason it’s being reported is because it’s unusual or spectacular. That’s why the handful of deaths airplane crashes (631 in the U.S.A each year) receive so much publicity but the thousands of people dying in car accidents (41,700 in the U.S.A. each year) receive only the vaguest of coverage.

Perhaps my favorite quote in the book on this topic is that “More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks.”. To contrast with the numbers above, about 0.6 people are killed in the U.S.A. each year by sharks. That’s five orders of magnitude less than the automobile figure. Yet how many people do you know are fearful of going swimming, yet have no problem driving to the corner store for some milk?

Anyway, there are great examples given of computer issues, financial issues, terrorist issues and even beekeeper issues. You will not want for examples that you can relate to.

Definitely a starting point for a reasoned, rational discussion on how to make the best possible trade-offs for the most useful and unencumbering risk reduction in a world of finite resources.

Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan

Woken FuriesI originally heard about “Woken Furies” on a “Tech Nation” podcast interview with author Richard K. Morgan. The universe he described sounded intriguing so I picked up the book last December and have been slowly reading it ever since. I don’t tend to rush through books I’m enjoying as I like them to last as long as possible.

I originally did not realize that this was the third in a series or I probably would have gone and picked the others up first so that I could grow with the story. As it turned out the book does a very good job of standing on its own.

I won’t bother to summarize the plot here, others have done a much more thorough job on Amazon and elsewhere than I could hope to, what I am expressing rather are my impressions of the book.

It’s relatively and graphically violent in portions, which is fitting given the history of the pro-(an?)tagonist. In real life he would not really be someone you’d want to meet… ever. But it is interesting to spend the book inside his head as he recalls past experiences that involve quelling far-flung planetary uprisings with a ruthlessness reserved for those who are trained to kill and are very good at it.

Of greatest interest to me is the culture of a civilization where death is a rarity. By choice or by accident you can “resleeve” and have a brand new body to use to carry on your existence and that body can be tailored to your personal or business needs. Starting with that premise, how do casual folks deal with relationships and their attitudes toward the everyday travails of life?
Mutually agreeable divorce or separation is much more to be expected as it is possible for centuries to pass across which your growth as a person may be expected to diverge from that significant other with whom you shared so much so long ago.

I found this a satisfying read and have added the preceding books to my Amazon wish list and anticipate that they will be equally satisfying.