As far as I’m concerned, books are one of the great pleasures in life. Here’s a list of some of what I enjoy reading. For a list of what I’ve been reading lately, see my reading list. Also see my links page for links to online books.
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I’ve read a lot of science fiction over the years, since I was a
teenager. I still feel as though there are lots of authors I haven’t
even sampled, but here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed:
My favourite author. In chronological order, he wrote The Big U,
Zodiac, Snow Crash, The Diamond
web site), the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The
Confusion, and The System of the World), Anathem,
and REAMDE. He also wrote The Cobweb
and Interface with his uncle under the name Stephen Bury.
Some stories and articles around:
Earth Mother Board,” an article he wrote for Wired
about undersea cable laying.
Here’s an older article (1994) about China: “In the
Kingdom of Mao Bell.” Now I know when he did his research for
“In the Beginning was the Command Line”. An excellent essay about
operating systems and more. Available in hard copy or distributed for
free as a text file at Cryptonomicon.com.
A nice html version.
“Jipi and the Paranoid Chip” (Or “Jipi’s Day at
the Office”) This was posted on Forbes.com. I can no longer
find it there and since I don’t think it’s in print or available
anywhere else, I’m going to keep my copy of the story publicly
available here as long as I don’t get any complaints from the holders
of the rights.
Great Simoleon Caper”
“Dreams & Nightmares of the Digital Age”
Hiro worship page
There was a time when I was a big fan, and I’ll still read anything by
him once. Highlights: Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh
Mistress, and Starship Troopers.
A couple of fan pages:
being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog,
conn a ship, design a building,
write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort
the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act
alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure,
program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight
efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for
Time Enough For Love
number of articles.
“The Notebooks of Lazarus Long”: I don’t know if these are the complete notebooks as they appear in Time Enough For Love, but it looks fairly complete.
Favourites: the Callahan’s books and Mindkiller. He writes a good
story, but I guess what keeps me coming back is the attention that he
pays to explaining the story and perspective of each character.
Lois McMaster Bujold
She writes both science fiction and fantasy. All of her books are at
least ok, but the ones I love are the books of the Vorkosigan
saga. The books span quite a long time, from before the main
character’s birth until his adulthood. Although I’m always pushing
these books on people, I’m never sure where to tell them to
start. Should they be read in the order in which they were written, or
in the order of the storyline? I still don’t know. I myself read The
Vor Game first, and that almost put me off the series because it’s not
really one of the stronger books. Memory is my absolute favourite, but
it wouldn’t have the impact that it does if you didn’t know the full
history of Miles’s life.
Baen Books has released all of Vorkosigan Saga as free ebooks! You can also download the iso image of the cd to read offline. See the Baen Free Library as well. The books and stories have been repackaged under different titles, but I think they’re all there except my favourite, Memory.
Orson Scott Card
Ender’s Game is on my must-read list. I also enjoyed the sequels and prequels. He also writes some more fantasy-type books that I’ve never
The dragonriders of Pern books are something of a guilty pleasure of
mine. I can still re-read Dragonsong and Dragonsinger and enjoy them because it’s a compelling story. I also enjoyed Crystal Singer.
The more I read him, the better I like him. Favourites: A Night in
the Lonesome October, Lord of Light, the Amber series, Isle of the Dead.
I have Toxicology, a collection of short stories by him. It doesn’t
entirely work for me, but I do really like a few of the stories in
it. My favourite story is “Jawbreaker”, from which the following:
“Yanda,” . . . “Listen. I’m not really in any hurry to be
illuminated. Heaven doesn’t tolerate cunning or wit. This grub in the
head’s an inconvenience, I realise that, and I should probably say I’m
sorry, though that’s just a guess on my part. But I want you to
know. Despite your sentences being a barricade to the truth. Despite
your approval existing only for trifles. Despite your gargantuan
efforts to bury yourself, deny your mind and cremate your
courage. Despite your attempt to remove all distinguishing marks. I
see you. You’re an angel, babe. Mad, soft around the edges, scared,
and trying your damnedest with what you have. I love you down to the
deepest atom. What do you say to that?”
I just recently read my first book by him: Steel Beach, and it was
excellent. I then went on to read Titan, Wizard and Demon which are
also highly recommended, and also Mammoth and The Golden Globe, which
were okay, but not in the same league as the others.
I liked The Martian Chronicles, but I think my favourite book of his might be Something Wicked This Way Comes. I liked Dandelion Wine a lot when I first read it, but when I look back on it now, I wonder. Too sentimental?
I liked Neuromancer a lot and the books that came after, and I really like his short story collection Burning Chrome. I also liked Pattern Recognition and Zero History very much.
Arthur C. Clarke
I read a lot of his books a long time ago, probably when I was about
12. Of the bunch, Childhood’s End and Rendezvous with Rama stand out
Ringworld is really good. The sequels less so. I’ve read some short
story collections (The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton). I also read The Mote
in God’s Eye by Niven and Jerry Pournelle and thought it was very
good. I recently read Inferno—not bad, and then the beginning of
Lucifer’s Hammer. Once the comet had hit I wasn’t interested enough to
keep reading about how the various characters fared in the breakdown
My must-read science fiction list:
- Dune—Frank Herbert
- Stranger in a Strange Land—Robert Heinlein
- Ender’s Game—Orson Scott Card
- Cryptonomicon—Neal Stephenson
- Neuromancer—William Gibson
- Ringworld—Larry Niven
- Lord of Light—Roger Zelazny
Other science fiction I’ve enjoyed
Dan Simmons: Hyperion and Ilium
Carl Sagan: Contact
Vernor Vinge: A Deepness in the Sky
Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Isaac Asimov: Robots of Dawn and following
I’m not fond of high fantasy and sword and sorcery, but I quite like some other types of fantasy, like the Harry Potter series, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and I love the Discworld books. I’ve read a selection of sword and sorcery books, including various books by David Eddings, Robert
Jordan, Tad Williams, Lloyd Alexander, Terry Brooks and who knows
what-all else, and I really haven’t loved any of them. Ditto for Lord of the Rings.
I’ll read everything he writes, and although I’m not usually a big fan of short stories, I like his quite a lot.
Highlights: the Sandman series, his short story collections,
especially Smoke and Mirrors, and his novels Neverwhere and American
script from The Kindly Ones, one of the Sandman series. A little silly
sometimes, but funny and wise. He’s got a very wide following: every
once in a while I’ll be talking to someone and something will come up
about oograh, or dwarf bread, or sapient pearwood, or the inner life
of camels, and I’ll know that I’ve met another fan. His best-known
books are the Discworld series, of which my favourites are the ones
about the witches.
annotation from Season of Mists.
A companion for American Gods: here is someone who’s filled in
some background information about the gods mentioned in the book
(possible spoiler content), with some pictures of the House on the
Pratchett fans are many and they’re on the web:
Check out some quotes
William Goldman—The Princess Bride
Very enjoyable. Make sure you read the introduction. Good movie too.
Part of the script
Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey books
I love these books. The more I read them the better I like them. My
favourites are Murder Must Advertise, Strong Poison, and Gaudy Night.
I read a lot of these at one time and I remember some of the best ones
being The Danger, Banker, Slay Ride, and Reflex.
I’ve read the Deptford trilogy: Fifth Business, World of Wonders and
The Manticore, and also the Cornish trilogy: The Rebel Angels, What’s
Bred in the Bone, and The Lyre of Orpheus. All good, although I
enjoyed the first series more.
Mikhail Bulgakov—The Master and Margarita
“Don’t be silly. Manuscripts don’t burn.” Pretty much all
I got out of a Russian literature class (I took a variety of courses
in first year). Check out this great web
site for pictures
as well as history and background information.
He created the famous fictional butler Jeeves with his master Bertie
Wooster. Very fun books.
All I know is that he wrote a killer story for Libido magazine. I just
really like the rhythm of his writing in this story but I guess what
also appeals to me is the theme I see in it of the conflict between a
person’s animal nature and rational nature, between what he wants to
be like and what he is like: “It’s myself I’m in disagreement with,
but I’m still myself.”
David Foster Wallace
Writes both fiction (I’ve just read Infinite Jest) and
nonfiction. I’ve got A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and
Consider the Lobster, both collections of articles. My favourite story
is a very funny article about going on a cruise in the first collection.
Infinite Jest is a book that I may have to buy again. And I may have
to read it again, although that’s a daunting prospect. It was an
impressive book: crazy, funny, painful, strange. It’s been strangely
memorable too, and when I think that I don’t know anyone else who’s
read it, I feel slightly lonely.
Guns, Germs, and Steel—Jared Diamond
This book explores the general question of why some cultures have
dominated over others, and concludes that it has a lot to do with the
plants and animals that each culture had to work with, as that
determined whether they could develop agriculture, which would then
result in higher population densities and the development of
government, technology, and epidemic disease. In the epilogue the
central question of the book is carried into more modern times to ask
why some countries dominate over others:
“Obviously, part of the answer depends on differences in human
institutions. The clearest evidence for this view comes from pairs of
countries that divide essentially the same environment but have very
different institutions and, associated with those institutions,
different per-capita GNPs. Four flagrant examples are the comparison
of South Korea with North Korea, the former West Germany with the
former East Germany, the Dominican Republic with Haiti, and Israel
with its Arab neighbors. Among the many ‘good
institutions’ often invoked to explain the greater wealth of the
first-named country of each of these pairs are effective rule of law,
enforcement of contracts, protection of private property rights, lack
of corruption, low frequency of assassinations, openness to trade and
to flow of capital, incentives for investment, and so on.”
He goes on to say though, that good institutions are not something
that just happen to arise in one place and not the other, and he
brings up what he calls “the effect of history”, by which he means
that these institutions arise out of a long chain of events that
originate in the past geographical causes (back to the domesticable
animals, climate, etc.). To illustrate, he quotes some economics
papers that explore the correlation between modern GNP and a country’s
“It turns out that countries in regions with long histories of state
societies or agriculture have higher per-capita GNP than countries
with short histories, even after other variables have been
controlled. The effect explains a large fraction of the variance in
GNP. Even just among countries with still-low or recently low GNPs,
countries in regions with long histories of state societies or
agriculture, like South Korea, Japan, and China, have higher growth
rates than countries with short histories, such as New Guinea and the
Philippines, even though some of the countries with short histories
are much richer in natural resources.”
John Preston—My Life as a Pornographer
Essays about being a writer of porn (and what it’s like to be confused
with your fictional heroes), but also about gay culture in general:
S/M as a manhood ritual and how this used to be enacted at the
Mineshaft club, what gay men need out of safe sex education and what
they’re not getting, what pride events are about for him, porn photo
models, and the erotic potential of men’s underwear. He often talks
about trends he’s observing and describes the roots behind them. These
essays were mostly written in the late eighties and early nineties. He
was HIV positive during the time that he wrote at least some of these
articles, and has since died.
He wrote to make money for his real passion which was to preserve
endangered species, by raising awareness and trying to presenve
habitat and so forth, but also by captive breeding programs which is
what he did at his zoo. My favourite book is his first book: My Family
and Other Animals, a very funny account of his childhood in
Greece. It’s online here.
Hunter S. Thompson
Very funny, crazy, honest and surprisingly compassionate. I like his
collections of articles best, starting with The Great Shark Hunt, but
I will read anything he wrote.
Some of my favourite essays are “Song of the
Sausage Creature” (“There are some things nobody needs in this
world, and a bright-red, hunch-back, warp-speed 900cc cafe racer is
one of them—but I want one anyway, and on some days I actually
believe I need one. That is why they are dangerous.”) and “Midnight
on the Coast Highway” (The Edge).
ever put a brick through a big plate-glass window, Ralph? It makes a
wonderful goddamn noise, and the people inside run around like rats in a
firestorm. It’s fun, Ralph, and a bargain at any
“The Pro-Flogging View”
On the web:
“Fear and Loathing in Elko”
Books about Sport
The Rider—Tim Krabbé (Dutch: De Renner)
A great book about bicycle racing.
What I Talk About When I Talk About
Religion and Atheism
The God Delusion—Richard Dawkins
The End of Faith—Sam Harris
Letter to a Christian Nation—Sam Harris
A nice, short little read. From a footnote:
“While many people of faith seem convinced that prayer can heal a wide
variety of illnesses (despite what the best scientific research
indicates), it is curious that prayer is only ever believed to work
for illnesses and injuries that can be self-limiting. No one, for
instance, ever seriously expects that prayer will cause an amputee to
regrow a missing limb. Why not? Salamanders manage this routinely,
presumably without prayer. If God answers prayers—ever—why
wouldn’t he occasionally heal a deserving amputee?”
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything—Christopher
Infidel—Ayaan Hirsi Ali
This book is the memoir of a Somalian woman who grew up in Somalia,
Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Ethiopia before fleeing to Holland. It’s very
interesting to read about her experiences living in those countries
and her changing perspective on Islam. As an adult she became a member
of parliament in Holland and making a ten-minute movie criticizing
Islam and its treatment of women in particular. The Dutch filmmaker
who directed the movie was murdered over it and she has been forced to
live under very tight security ever since.
Breaking the Spell—Daniel Dennett
Probably my favourite. He takes quite a patient and non-adversarial
tone, and simply suggests that we examine the phenomenon of religion
in a scientific light. He’s preaching to the converted in me, but
still, somewhere during the book I felt something in my mind go
ping! when I really thought about the absurdity of taking one
religion more seriously than another.
The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the
Search for God—Carl Sagan
This is a transcript of a series of lectures that Carl Sagan gave as
the 1985 Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology at the University of
Glasgow. Here’s an interesting passage:
“And there’s an extremely interesting statistical study by the
American social scientist James Prescott, in which he has looked at
the compilation by Stanford anthropologist Robert Textor of hundreds
of different societies, not all of them still extant . . . It is
Prescott’s view that there are causal relations. That, in fact, in his
view the key distinction has to do with whether cultures hug their
children and whether they permit premarital sexual activity among
adolescents. In his view those are the keys. And he concludes that all
cultures in which the children are hugged and the teenagers can have
sex wind up without powerful social hierarchies and everybody’s
happy. And those cultures in which the children are not permitted to
be hugged because of some social ban and a premarital adolescent
sexual taboo is strictly enforced wind up killing, hating, and having
powerful dominance hierarchies.”
The World’s Religions—Huston Smith
Previously released as The Religions of Man, this is a really
well-written and interesting book describing the main points of the
major world religions. Covered are Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism,
Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and a final chapter on what he
calls the “primal religions”. For each religion, he
explains the history and the main points of thought.
Just for my education. I’ve read the first five books of the
Old Testament, the four gospels of the New Testament, and then some highlights: Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Psalms, and Revelations. I’ll never read the whole thing, but maybe there’s a greatest hits list somewhere.
I’m reading the New International Version, just because that’s what
was being handed out for free at the University clubs day. I’m pretty
happy with it, but it uses a few colloquialisms, such as “sleep
with” and “stiff-necked” that I have trouble
accepting as the best possible translation. The ideal Bible
translation for me would be in modern language, but as faithful as
possible to the original text, without modern colloquialisms or
changes to gender-neutral language, and using readings from the Dead
Sea scrolls where appropriate.
The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for
Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity—James
VanderKam and Peter Flint
I didn’t read the whole thing as this book gets a little dry in
places, but I skimmmed through the discovery etc, and then paid more
attention to the “Dead Sea Scrolls and Scripture”
section. There’s a very informative discussion there about the various
sources used to compile the modern versions of the Bible. Let’s see if
I can provide a summary (all quotations are from VanderKam and Flint):
- The Masoretic Text: “Almost all modern English translations
of the Old Testament are based on a single manuscript—the
Leningrad, or St. Petersburg, Codex . . . Copied in 1008 or
1009 CE, this is our earliest complete example of the traditional
Hebrew Bible, or Masoretic Text.” There are apparently a few
different published versions of it available, some of them quite
recently produced. As I understand it, the term “Masoretic
Text” is generally used to mean the standard text of the Hebrew
Bible as finalized by the Masoretic scholars of Tiberias. So, call it
the oldest version of the Hebrew Old Testament.
- Samaritan Pentateuch: An alternate version of the first five books
of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
kept by the Samaritan Jews.
- Septuagint: This generally refers to a Greek translation of the
Hebrew Old Testament, probably for the use of Greek-speaking Jews
living in Egypt. VanderKam and Flint say: “It seems clear that the
Septuagint was made in several stages, beginning with the Pentateuch
in the third century BCE (probably in Egypt) and ending in the first
century BCE or even the first century CE.”