Reading Journal: February 2015

A little fantasy and non-fiction for the month…

#14 The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, An Englishman’s World

Not bad, in any sense, but I think that the reading by Sir Derek Jacobi helps carry this audiobook. The material is not new, although the frame, in which the text follows the illustrations in a medieval books of days, is novel. Worth a listen if you are into medieval things.

#15 Dreamer’s Tales by Lord Dunsany

An interesting series of early fantasy stories, marred, if I may use so strong a word, by Dunsany’s continual use of melancholic death as a motif. His technique is good, but because he keeps hitting the same notes, his work is best read in small snatches, separated by other work. Recommended to fans of whimsical, rather than heroic, fantasy. Available through Librivox and Internet Archive.

#16 Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Who knew a book about homogenous hiring could be so engaging? For those not into business-speak, that’s the habit of individuals to hire copies of themselves. In Ready Player One, an eccentric billionaire named Halliday has left his fortune to whoever can solve a puzzle in the virtual world he created. He doesn’t just find his successors, he creates them. To solve the puzzle a player needs to love what Halliday loves. The victorious player is essentially a clone, patted on the head with some paternal advice at the end. More, Halliday creates a society in which his younger duplicates can thrive. That Halliday is reproducing himself memetically while terraforming the world so that his descendants can thrive, is the most interesting element in the story. Book club discussion questions available.

#17 Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty

This is a deeply satisfying book that requires no understanding of econometrics. Piketty’s basic thesis is that society has the choice between a progressive capital tax or the continual concentration of money and influence into the hands of a tiny elite, He manages to develop this thesis in several different ways. So many economists write vague, ill-demonstrated material. Piketty’s approach, deep data combined with historical research, is novel and admirable

It’s difficult to explain why a book on economic history is, so far, one of my favourite books of the year. Let me give one example: Piketty uses the income structures of Jane Austen’s characters as examples in his historical survey of how inherited capital influences social structures.

Copies are available from the Library Service.

#18 The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

I’ve enjoyed the rest of this series, and Stross delivers again. The lead character, Bob, is a middle-aged public servant who works for the Laundry. This is the part of the British Civil Service that deals with occult threats and higher mathematics. In this story, Bob needs to deal with his terrifying ex-girlfriend, and the fact that no-one seems to be able to believe in vampires.

Copies are available from the Library Service.