Ancient Books and When I Read Them

Two years ago I read an assload of books. I thought it would be great idea to write down all the books I read. More importantly I would write a little bit about the books I thought were the most interesting. Little did I know, I was writing a blog post I would use two years later. Here it is.

Since the year is over, Its time to take a look at what I’ve read. I read some incredible books by some of the best authors of the 20th century and it seemed like every book I read lead to two more and a couple different authors. While all of them were good, a few books truly stood apart:

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem – I am hardly the first person to think this is one of the best novels ever written. Looking inward at the effect of old emotional wounds reopened, while simultaneously staring desperately outward hoping to desperately make contact with something. While this is not quite a ‘first contact’ scenario, Lem examines the very definition of ‘contact’, leaving the impression he believed meaningful communication between truly alien beings may simply be impossible.


Blind Sight and Echopraxia by Peter Watts – Blind Sight, and its sequel, Echopraxia, have plots which unfold in a very similar way: a mysterious call to action, a long journey to a distant and dangerous location (the Oort Cloud in Blind Sight, and a trans-Mercurial power station in Echopraxia) but each is filled to bursting with intense discussion on different subjects. On their journey out of the Solar system, the cast of Blind Sight examine what it means to be a conscious entity: is being conscious meaningful? Does being conscious confer advantage to the conscious entity? Could an entity without self-awareness operate as well as, or possibly better than, one that has to actually THINK about its actions before performing them? The final question the novel poses leaves a philosophical time bomb for the reader, asking ‘Could self-awareness simply be a passing evolutionary phase, something we are destined to outgrow?’
Echopraxia delves into the similar but distinct vein of free will. While not quite as intense and mind-bending as Blind Sight, the author continues from his previous potion and continues to ask uncomfortable questions about what it is to be human. The main question is whether anyone has free will, or the ability to alter their fate, and while this has been done to death for literally as long as people have been writing, Wells puts a nuanced spin on the subject through heavy reference to the bleeding edge of cognitive science as we currently understand it, as well as new insights into the actual function of some of the parts of the human brain.
Most impressive for both of these books, is the author’s afterword in which he provides point by point explanations of how and why certain events occurred accompanied by citations to current studies demonstrating some degree of validity to the theory put into practice in the book.

Accelerando by Charles Stross – If anyone ever asks you “What is the singularity”, simply point them at this book. Once they’ve finished reading it, they will realize that they still have no idea, and neither does anybody else. Fortunately, Charles Stross has populated this book with characters who are just as curious to find out what the singularity will be like, and have decided they might just force it to be sooner, rather than later. Over the course of the novel, the technological, and therefore computation, level of humanity accelerates upward at rate that leaves every human being so far behind they are not even sure where they are anymore. Between explorations and demonstration of the wonders of the ‘exo-cortex’ (all the information we once remembered, but now store online for easier filing and access) and some serious nano-technological masturbation, Stross gleefully turns everything up to eleven, rips of the knob, tapes the amp to a rocket and fires it into the sun.
Perhaps the best moment, for me, was a discussion between several of the characters on when they believe the singularity occurred (taking place in a simulated environment, on board a space ship the size of a Coke can): one claims it occurred the first time two computers were networked together, another insists that there is no such thing as a singularity, it is simply a sharper rate of acceleration, which will eventually slow down again. No final conclusion is arrived at, and this is, in many ways, the message of the book. Sometimes things get complicated, then we sort them out again just in time for everything to get messed up again.

And here is the full glorious list of the books of 2014:
Neuromancer – William Gibson
Count Zero – William Gibson
Mona Lisa Overdrive – William Gibson
Against a Dark Background – Ian M. Banks
The Prefect – Alastair Reynolds
The Sunless Countries (Virga 4) – Karl Schroeder
Lockstep – Karl Schroeder
Century Rain – Alistair Reynolds
Gardens of the Moon: Book 1 of Malazan etc. – Steven Erikson
Mr. Mercedes – Stephen King
The Diamond Age – Neil Stephenson
Pattern Recognition – William Gibson
Spook Country – William Gibson
Zero History – William Gibson
Pushing Ice – Alastair Reynolds
Solaris – Stanislaw Lem
Cryptonomicon – Neil Stephenson
Interface – Neil Stephenson and Frederick George
Consider Phlebas – Ian m. Banks
Reamde – Neil Stephenson
Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut
Blindsight – Peter Watts
Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
Galactic North – Alastair Reynolds
Zima Blue and Other Stories – Alastair Reynolds
Hyperion – Dan Simmons
The Fall of Hyperion – Dan Simmons
The Peripheral – William Gibson
Accelerando – Charles Stross
Singularity Sky – Charles Stross
Echopraxia – Peter Watts
Fluency – Jennifer Foehner Wells
Altered Carbon – Richard K. Morgan
Illuminatus! Book One: The Eye in the Pyramid – Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson