Clearing the inbox

Late last year, I started blogging about the books I read. It was easy — I was on vacation. But I had hopes of continuing to do that into this year…those hopes lasted about one week. Even though my reading pace fell off substantially with the return to work, my blogging pace fell off even faster. But I hung on to the dream and kept books that I finished on my dresser, at least the ones I didn’t borrow from the library, knowing that I’d get around to blogging them some day.

Eventually, though, the pile of books got big enough to become unstable, and I had to do something.

I could simply have shelved the books and gone about my life, but that would have been too easy. Instead, I put them into my inbox (yes, I have been paying too much attention to Getting Things Done lately), and now it’s time to deal with them.

So, in no particular order, and with no guarantee of completeness, here are Some of the Books I’ve Read This Year:

  • Great Science Fiction by Scientists

    I picked up this book at Rasputin Books in the ex-Tower Records in Palo Alto; Groff Conklin’s anthologies almost always have several good stories, and for 95 cents, how could I go wrong? Some of the stories show their age (1930-1962), but there are classics, too. My favorite in this collection is Miles Breuer’s “The Gostak and the Doshes”, the only SF story I can think of based on grammar, but Clarke’s “Summertime on Icarus”, and Ralph Cooper’s “The Neutrino Bomb” are worthwhile, too. And did I mention I only paid 95 cents?

  • All the Colors of Darkness by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

    I first borrowed this book (and its sequel, whose name escapes me) from my elementary school library. It shone more brightly in memory than in the rereading, but I don’t regret spending the time (or the 95 cents). The story here is simple — humanity is developing teleportation machines, which will lead inevitably to self-teleporting spacecraft and our going out to the stars. However, the Powers That Be out there don’t believe we are worthy, and send a team in to sabotage our efforts, by making the teleportation system appear unsafe by making sure that some number of passengers (all They, of course) don’t arrive at their destinations. Our hero, Jan Darzek, investigates, figures out what’s going on, follows one of Them closely, and winds up on their Moon base. Moral dilemmas follow.

  • The Best from F&SF, Sixth Series

    Another Rasputin find, with good stories from Kornbluth (“The Cosmic Expense Account”), Pohl (“The Census Takers”), Anderson (“The Man Who Came Early”), and Sturgeon (“And Now the News…”).

  • Three Worlds to Conquer, by Poul Anderson

    A not terribly exciting story of rebellion in the outer Solar System. It feels like it’s three short stories glued together, but the colophon doesn’t list any previous publication data. Perhaps having read it will come in handy at “Trivia for Chocolate” during Denvention — they often ask questions about Anderson’s stories.

  • You Can Negotiate Anything, by Herb Cohen

    I picked this book up at last year’s IBM Technical Leadership Exchange — they offered a couple of hundred books for “free” (in other words, the charges were picked up at a level above your department), and they shipped them for you, so I erred on the side of grabbing anything which seemed interesting. This year, the model was different — you had to put the books on a credit card (to be reimbursed on your expense account), and you had to haul them home with you — so I was much more careful in what I chose. And I probably wouldn’t have chosen this book this year.

    The book was published in 1980, and the language shows it, as do many of the examples, but the principles are still valid. Worth a read.

  • Power Mentoring, by Ellen Ensher and Susan Murphy

    Another book from TLE 2007. The key insight in this one is that you can have more than one mentor and be a mentor to more than one protege. Not terribly surprising, but there it is.

  • Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner

    The last of the TLE 2007 haul, at least in this batch. A good tool for understanding what to do about people who drive you nuts — helps you see where they’re coming from, why you can’t stand them, and how to react.

  • Work-Life Balancing, by Paul Baffes, Ph. D.

    I must confess to some bias here — I know Paul and work with him occasionally, and I got the book free by asking a question in his session at this year’s TLE. But despite that, I think I can objectively recommend the book — Paul writes about the methods he uses to make his work and the rest of his life support one another instead of being in conflict. The details may not fit your life exactly, but the ideas are sound, especially being “selfFIRST”.

Now I have to figure out where to shelve these books…there’s always something….

My recommendations for the Best Novel Hugo

Every year, the members of the World Science Fiction Society choose the Hugo Awards. Most years, I vote in at most one of the Dramatic Presentation categories, but I decided to do better for Denvention and read all of the novels so I could cast an informed vote.

This decision was a bit easier than it sounds, since I’d already read The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and Rollback, leaving me only three books to read, all of which were conveniently available at my local library.

The Hugo Awards use the Australian ballot (otherwise known as Instant Runoff Voting), so I had to rank-order all five novels, as well as No Award. Here’s my vote, starting with the best and moving down from there.

Originally, I didn’t think of this as science fiction; I came to it as a confirmed fan of Chabon, originally from reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but I’ve enjoyed most of his books. And my main interest in the book was its Jewish content; in fact, Shir Hadash chose the book for its first congregational reading program.

But it is SF, of course, dealing, as it does, with an alternate history in which many (but not all) European Jews were evacuated to Alaska as a temporary refuge, leading to a present day where there is a large cohort of Yiddish-speaking Jews (well, mostly Jews) in and around Sitka, and where their lease on the territory is about to expire.

There is intrigue, an evil US Government plot, a love story, a murder to solve, and more — highly recommended. My only real complaint is that the loose ends were tied up very abruptly, as though Chabon had been given a maximum page count and had to avoid going over.

Stross is always reliable, and Halting State does not disappoint. It’s set in a very near-future Scotland (after the breakdown of the United Kingdom), in a world where gaming has gone mainstream and become a significant part of the economy. There are bad guys and possibly some good guys, a love story (of the geekish kind), some tech talk and predictions (I suspect he’s too optimistic on the release date of Python3000), and lots and lots of action. The book is written in the second person, with multiple viewpoint characters, a narrative trick I found irritating, but it kept me turning the pages very steadily indeed.

I wasn’t sure whether to put this or Yiddish Policeman’s Union first, but eventually, I decided I found the characters in Yiddish Policeman’s Union to be more convincing.

I enjoyed Rollback when I read it as an Analog serial, and I enjoyed rereading it, once I figured out why it was so familiar; it hadn’t made a strong enough impression on me for me to remember the title. The McGuffin here is that Earth has just received a reply to the message it sent to aliens in response to their message to us (yes, interstellar email has reply chains), but that it’s encrypted, and the Rich Industrialist is willing to pay to have the scientist who figured out the first message “rolled back” (or rejuvenated) so she’ll be able to figure out this message. She is reluctant, and only agrees if her husband is also rolled back — but his rollback takes and hers doesn’t.

Again, pages turned rapidly, but the characters would have been right at home in 2008; sure, there were some changes in the gadgetry, but they didn’t seem to have any effect on the way people lived and acted. Despite that weakness, I recommend the book — but it’s not outstanding.

Brasyl is set in, strangely enough, Brazil — three Brazils, in fact. One seems to be contemporary, one is about 30 years in the future, and one is a couple of centuries in the past. But they aren’t in the same timeline. And they might not be real.

Brasyl reminded me a lot of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. And of various authors’ crosstime books. And of the end of James Blish’s The Triumph of Time.

I found the characters unsympathetic, and I don’t know enough about the history of Brazilian football (soccer) to really appreciate the significance of the Fateful Final (though I did enjoy it when the Brazilian team stayed in Los Gatos for the 1994 World Cup).

Perhaps The Last Colony lost something for me because I hadn’t read the two earlier books in the series, but I found it to be by far the least worthy of the Hugo nominees. The characters were cut from cardboard that Asimov would have rejected as being too thin, the aliens weren’t very alien, and I didn’t find the plot points to be particularly believable.

I did finish the book, but it was largely from a sense of duty.

Moving on…

We’re in the middle of the graduation fun — so far today, we’ve been to Jeff’s graduation (photos to come, but not tonight) and to a close friend’s graduation party. In a couple of hours, I take Jeff back to school for Grad Night, then tomorrow evening, one of his classmates is having another graduation party. And I think that’s it. So far.

Jeff’s graduation seemed to go well (not that I was an objective observer). Harris Barton, former Super Bowl offensive lineman for the 49’ers, added “commencement speaker” to his resume — his talk wasn’t as intense as Tom Lantos’ (z”l) last year, but it was good and relevant and funny and well-received. And all of the kids’ talks were good, too.

I was very happy to see the school’s first principal, Ms. Peterson, there to see “her” kids graduate (she’d taught English to many of them, including Jeff, during their junior year, as well as having been principal for the first five years of the school). She said her sabbatical was just what she’d needed this year.

There are plans to set up a parents’ alumni network (I think I accidentally volunteered to help with that), and of course the kids will stay in touch via Facebook (and even via email, at least for a while). But Kehillah is no longer the center of any of our existences.

It feels strange.

Just the headlines

I’ve been less than chatty lately, whether here or on Twitter. No particular reason, other than having a lot to do at work, and trying to get back on the GTD wagon (with some success). So here’s an instant update of what’s near the top of my mind.

  • Jeff’s back from Israel, with hundreds of photos to be looked at and dealt with.
  • Today was Jeff’s last day of high school — graduation is Sunday.
  • Diane and I went to LA with a small group from Shir Hadash last weekend, and a good time was had (I can’t say if it was had by all, but I certainly enjoyed it).
  • I’m doing something very odd this year: reading all of the Hugo nominees, at least for novels (and maybe the shorter fiction, too). Perhaps I’ll even vote.
  • We joined the Fleming-Jenkins Wine Club today, while visiting their tasting room during its Grand Opening, and we enjoyed conversing with both principals (one of whom used to be Diane’s dermatologist — I’ll let you guess which one). Needless to say, we also enjoyed the wine.


After Hillary’s speech tonight, Diane wanted to give her some advice: “Enough!”

So she went to Hillary’s website, only to be greeted by a form giving her a choice of exactly one option: “Stay the course.”

I’m glad that Hillary has learned the lessons of the W presidency so well…because, as he demonstrated so well, dissent is not to be tolerated lest you hear something that might make you change your mind.