Kindling #4

This post is from a series of review posts - for the whole list, see my Kindling page.

Now that I've finally managed to finish the novel I've been reading for almost half a year now it seemed a good time to do another book review dump in case anyone is reading these (and while waiting for music uploads to be processed for another post).

Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) - On my list of 'classics to read', I didn't really find myself getting in to Catch 22, although I can see its appeal. It fits in a style of novel that I see a lot but doesn't gel with me: a collection of weird events that aren't that related, centered around unusual characters and their weird behaviors and circumstances. In an earlier post I mentioned the same problem with Kurt Vonnegut, so while it was well written, I couldn't help feel I would rather be reading about Milo's story of growing his trade empire, rather than Yossarian's.

Armada (Ernest Cline) - Armada is the second novel from the author of Ready Player One, which I've recommended before. Armada is a lot less pop-culture-laden and definitely felt cemented in the YA sci-fi category, heavily influenced by Ender's game (I's a school student battling aliens through a game) but still an enjoyable and quick read, albeit missing the interesting ethics questions of its inspiration. Worth a read if you've read Ready Player One, but if you haven't, that one is more interesting to read first.

The Martian (Andy Weir) - A friend advised reading this before watching the movie, and I'm glad I did. The movie itself was enjoyable for the creation of action/suspense through science, but the book amped this up considerably as it could use the medium of Watney's thoughts rather than that weird video log in the film. I finished this book really quickly, it felt a lot like listening to someone who was really clever but also entertaining talk about their expertise, which was something I enjoy (and one of the great things about working at Google).

Walden Two (B F Skinner) - I first heard about this book in my psych 101 class. Skinner is much, much better known as the father of psychological Behaviourism (learning through conditioning) and his thoughts on free will vs. determinism, but it turns out he also tried out fiction writing. Inspired by Thoreau's Walden, Skinner's novel looks at how he believes a community could go about creating an ideal city, touching on things like education, division of labor, competition, ... It felt a bit similar to Atlas shrugged at times, but a lot more...positive (especially towards the people not in the community). It's definitely interesting to read in the context of many of the community movements today, in particular considering it was penned back in 1948!

The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky) - This is what took up the vast majority of my reading time over the last many months, it's a long and dense tale! Although I guess no surprise, it is Russian epic. Wikipedia claims that Freud thought it was "the most magnificent novel ever written" and that it was admired by Einstein, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Vonnegut, but I didn't really get that much out of it unfortunately - perhaps it hasn't aged well? It did fall a bit into the Catch 22 category of weird characters - I kind of lose interest in a scene once people knowingly act strangely. And shout a lot! And ooooooooh, overdramatise, how they overdramatise, their arms tremble as their heart is overcome by desire to rectify, at any cost, the grief they are responsible for. At any cost, what will others think! ..... I think you get the gist. The one thing it does do rather well is cover how people interpret situations differently, and how easy it is to misinterpret an action until you've heard the actor's reasoning (which might include how they thought you'd interpret it). But overall I didn't get the 'ethical debates of God, free will, and morality' mentioned, rather that if you constantly talk about killing someone, don't be surprised when people suspect that you did.

The Three-Body Problem (Liu Cixin) - The winner of the Hugo Sci-Fi award in 2015, it seemed worth trying out, being apparently sci-fi-y but also physics-y. Compared to the Dostoyevsky, this was a much lighter read, but still didn't get me as involved as, say, the Martian or Ender's game. The politics on the human side seem fairly good for a sci-fi, and the alien back-story is rather interesting but I can't help think that it would have been much more enjoyable set up Ender's-game-style with the humans interacting with the Trisolaris entirely through the Three Body game. Instead, you get the problem of everything in space taking a long time to happen, which is only worked around with a deus-ex-proton-machina that comes out of nowhere and makes you wonder how this hasn't already been resolved. Still, there are two more novels, so I'll be interested to see how it resolves.

That's all for this update, currently I'm consuming a Matthew Reilly (The Great Zoo of China - airport-novel paced and not mentally challenging, but still fun) as well as Gödel Escher Bach, and have Snow Crash and some psych non-fiction (Superforcasting, and Transhumanist wager) lined up, but am also open for suggestions as always!


  1. I can recommend Future Visions. It's a collection of short sci-fi stories, but they are really realistic. The authors did they research really well into how machine learning works, what are current algorithms and what is plausible in the next X years, and they build up stories exploring that.

    1. Awesome, thanks Roland! I've been watching a lot of futuristic sci-fi recently (Her, Ex Machina, The Machine, Transcendence, Chappie, ... there's been a huge amount over the last few years!) so this looks great :)

  2. I found it hard to read 'Catch-22' as well


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