The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

I can see why this book was a highly praised classic. It’s a good book that skirts the edges of hard sci-fi, particularly with concerns like relativity. It’s a great soldier’s eye view of the world–though the details are sometimes a little shortcut, it makes the book a compact and powerful read.

There’s some very nice sleight of hand with society and its changes in the background, allowing only the nearest future to be clearly defined, but the remainder to give a strong impression.

Wolf Tower by Tanith Lee

The first of a 4 book series. Claidi is a handmaiden servant to a self-involved and sadistic mistress. Eventually, the routine of the quiet and isolated Garden she was raised in is disturbed… forcing her out into the forbidding wastes.

It’s a novel filled with exploration–and true exploration, not conquest. Claidi is young and sheltered in a world that doesn’t make allowances for it.

She’s a good companion and interesting to explore the world with. It’s a blazing fast read; I’ll pick up the next three books and expect to gobble them down quickly.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Another excellent book; it’s the first one written, and the one that A Closed and Common Orbit follows. There are a number if differences–primarily in the number of POV.

The big point of overlap between the two books is Lovelace; in this book Pepper is a minor character who crosses their paths twice. The Wayfarer is the center of this book. It’s a great mixed race cast, with subtly alien aliens. Everyone has motivations and ties that bind and quirky histories that come out over the course of the book. It’s only as I write now that Firefly’s crew comes up as a comparison. The tech is different, but the primacy of a small crew’s interactions is a common heart.

Spread over the extra characters, it feels less introspective and philosophical–but it’s still more about getting along with others in a strange but tolerant and friendly universe.

It’s a great book, and the overlap with A Closed and Common Orbit is minor enough that reading them in either order will work out well.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

A very interesting world, slowly revealed and deeply complicated. It’s incomplete–the book creates great forces, reveals how intertwined they are… then runs out of pages. If you’re in for the trilogy, though, it’s a fascinating future– foreign feeling, with strange holdovers and tremendous differences from a “future” imagined from today’s society.

The ties of Mycroft to the beating heart of everything feel a little too neat and tidy… the world feels oddly constrained or contrived to be so subtly steerable by so few. Hopefully the next books will expand on why a bit.

I enjoyed it and can see why it bowled people over. I’m certainly interested in reading on.

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford

An interesting look at the advantages of resisting the urge to put things in order, to spend time on organizing instead of doing. It has 9 chapters loosely compartmentalizing broad categories of experiences that sometimes get better when they’re disorganized.

Creativity is largely focussed on the professional, among experts. If you’re good enough to react well to a random push (like experienced Jazz performers and other musicians), a random push or novel constraints can force you to pay attention to the world, or break unexamined habits, or just get you to strive in a new direction.

Collaboration is largely again about experts; Paul Erdos features strongly. He’s a brilliant mathematician who hops into novel mathematical subfields, learns enough to understand their current problem, and draws on his extensive experience with other subfields to see if they offer an approach or solution. It’s almost like Mandelian hybrid vigor.

Workplaces is about the folly of taking away resources–like desks, walls and chairs–and trying on ideal order. It’s also about (and parallel to) the life of buildings–an adaptable building, particularly one that doesn’t need permission to alter–gets altered to solve what needs solving. Perfectionists, particularly of the clean desk or no personal possession sort, often destroy morale and deprive their members of the tools they need to reach their tasks–or just to feel control of their space.

Improvisation, much like Creativity and Corroboration begin with highly skilled members who have honed their craft in controlled circumstances and meticulous effort, then throws them into situations without the time to prep. Their expertise is revealed, honed by the practice… with the bonus that they’re more responsive, since they’re reading the room, not reciting honed notes.

Winning is about taking advantage of your comfort with disorder to undo those who require order and sense. Rommel and Amazon both get laudatory treatment–taking advantage of the moment can be huge, if you’ve judged the moment correctly.

Incentives bring bureaucracy and human behavior into conflict. If you use simple measures, it’s easy to beat the measure but not improve the system. Great examples.

Automation is a warning; when we turn the routine over to machines and let machines smooth our experiences, we’re terribly out of practice when the machine fails. Amusing when it’s GPS and time to break out a paper map, deadly when airline pilots lose autopilot and fly-by-wire and the plane suddenly doesn’t respond as expected.

Resilience is about how much we want to believe that orderliness is good–broken windows and hoaxes along similar lines are believed because they mirror common sense.

Life is a hodge-podge, but mirrors roadway design and unmarked roundabouts. Even children respond well to cues–a dangerous playground is treated more cautiously than a foam mat. And creativity–like plywood forts–can blossom if they’re left unsupervised. Plus other interesting tangents about Franklin’s inability to conquer messiness, avoiding overcommitment, etc.

All in all a quick, if breezy book.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

This book is set in an interesting future; one with aliens and friendly compatibility, but also humans chasing profit and breeding children because they’re cheaper than machines.

The POV characters are great–very distinct windows into the world. The legal structure, the holes and “we can decide better than politicians” really comes through, but not in a libertarian dystopia way.

For most of the book, we’re navigating the current day with Lovelace, alternating with flashbacks to Jane’s childhood and teen past. It becomes apparent at some point that the Jane of the past is who Lovelace is crashing with… and just how much Jane must have gone through to get to the present that we see.

There’s a lot about picking your future, the nature of AI, thinking about the mind/body duality, friendship… it’s a book filled with interesting people making hard choices. I really liked it.

Evidently, this is book 2, parallel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, or at least somewhat overlapping. It was good enough that I’m going to seek out 1… and probably 3, if it’s in the pipeline.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

A great, fast reading book–I believe it won the 2016 Hugo for best novella.

It’s a book about children who step through portals to other worlds, and how they cope after returning.

Nancy is a great main character; in fact, my only real complaint is that the book introduces multiple POV… that don’t seem worth adding. The initial scene from Eleanor West’s POV made sense as a frame for the story, but the rest of the hopping didn’t seem worth the tradeoff–the information was staged so that Nancy soon discovered whatever the new POV character experienced.

Anyway, it’s a bit of a dark twist on returning home and finding that home falls short. Wonderfully written–it’s hard not to read it in one long gulp.