Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez

So far, it’s an okay but not great book. I’m glad that I checked it out from the library; while it’s not great, it’s fun. I suspect that I hopped in at book 2 or 3… but I’m not really inspired to go dig up book one.

It’s a quirky book with a world like ours, but subject to visitations by beings from other dimensions–who sometimes get stuck. It’s lightly humorous not a pun-a-minute, but there’s a lot of slice of life elements… and an answer to what you do when you’re granted great cosmic power. By the end, it was enjoyable–but still not so much that I’m going to seek out more of the series.

Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman

I was turned onto this book by an online book group; it sounded interesting. I enjoyed the writing–it was very easy to read. Amusingly, given the subject of so much of the book, I found it read easily enough that it was a quick skim rather than sticking deeply to mind. To a certain point, that’s intentional–the author talks about it as getting better at water cooler discussions, and it seems like the overview that sticks (so far) could be very handy for that purpose.

For half of the book, the discussion is about Systems 1 and 2. System 1 is automatic, visual, great at averaging, vigilant for danger, etc. It functions automatically and often has opinions that can feel like considered judgement. System 2 is analytical and detailed, but lazy. It has trouble with any computation trickier than multiplying two two-digit numbers together. The trick is that we all think of our lives as mostly System 2 phenomena… but it’s usually System 1 throwing up an answer, with system two giving it a casual “yup, looks fine” certification.

There are a lot of interesting ideas that get explored at pop-culture length. (Which is probably all I could handle, since that both fields are distant fro my own.) There are a lot of fascinating asides and details, like intensity matching (which gets abused by System 1 for everything from evaluating how much to support a cause, or how long a prison sentence should be), WYSIATI (what you see is all there is), which leads to consistent biases in evaluation depending on “irrelevant” criteria like the order of presentation or adding extraneous, useless information, and more. One of the trickiest things is that S1 hates not having an answer… so, instead of prompting you to think hard, it answers a similar but related question. A trivial example is that “How is your life overall these days?” usually gets reduced to “How do you feel at this moment?”

Less of the book is devoted to two further persistent, consistent flaws. In the field of economics, there are a lot of assumptions about rational agents (ie, everyone) and how they act. Humans fail against that baseline in consistent ways. For example, reading contracts thoroughly is unusual–and while an Econ doesn’t care about the font size, Humans do. A huge effect is anchoring–we care more about how things are relative to our current status than absolutely. Which means that you can twist things, just by presenting something as a gain followed by a wager for a degree of loss, or just presenting it as a wager from current standings. (People are risk and loss averse.)

It’s a book that I’m glad I read, and I hope that some of it sticks, despite how easy it went down.

Shadowed Souls by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes

A collection of short stories, mostly Urban Fantasy. A few stories were written to stand alone and a few were from series I already appreciate. (Like Jim Butcher’s Cold Case, about Molly.) In general, I enjoyed them, though most weren’t a huge impact–they almost all seem to have been written as easy to skip side adventures that don’t affect the main book series.

The vignettes of established characters from series that I don’t read had a much taller climb. Impossible Monsters was a good stand alone. Hunter Healer was new to me and intriguing. Impossible Monsters was much darker than the rest–it stood out, positively–though I doubt that I’d enjoy whole novels about the character. (The character also has an obnoxious feel of having leveled up that I dislike in non-game world fiction… and even there, usually.) Peacock in Hell also stuck with me.

Hitchers by Will McIntosh

The world goes weird. There’s terrorism, possession, widespread death, family, and memories. The end of the world is all about relationships, and guilt that can’t be put aside.

I enjoyed it and don’t want to spoil it too much.

A Meet Missed

Stannis Stadium is an immense, red marble Coliseum, packed with roaring crowds. Overhead, immense 40′ high holograms replicate the gladiatorial duel going on below. The 1st Hounds squad anchors their line in the marsh, probing the advancing 3rd Light Horse…

In a luxury box above, we see Arcon 005, Jack Turner, and Leon Iococa enjoying the spacious box… but their attention wanders frequently from the action.

Leon spends a lot of time studying cameras that he placed along their entry route, keeping an eye out for disaster. Similarly, Arc stands outside the door to the box, on alert for interruption. Only Jack is in the games’ spirit; he places small bets while waiting for “Mr Johnson” to arrive.

He’s late; several matches pass uneventfully. Animals from Mumun are savaging Tacituar, when the situation changes. Leon and Arc’s preparation is for good cause; at the stair base, several members of the Praetorian Guard gather and move in a coordinated group towards the stairs leading to the team’s luxury box.

Fortunately, Jack switched the electronic signature of their luxury box with the adjacent box. Arc ducked in, stepping behind the door in the box’s bathroom doorway, so his presence outside wouldn’t give away their location.

The guard stormed up the stairs, peeling off guards to block the business level intersection, while the remaining guards continued up the stairs. Confused by the altered electronic signatures, the guard struck a more respectful pose and knocked on the adjacent luxury suite. While the Praetorian Guard spoke with the VP next door, Jack identified the service trapdoor in the floor. Leon placed a camera in the box and they fled down the maintenance ladder.

It wasn’t many rungs down the ladder before Leon heard the click of the door override through the camera relay, and watched the guards spread through the chamber, seeking the fleeing team. Eventually Leon spoke through the camera relay, asking them what was going on. They demanded to know where the senator was–they knew that whoever this was had snatched him, or was part of the distraction that led him to elude his guards. Since they’d done no such thing, the team decided to put some space between them and the pursuing Praetorians…

Arc’s trade-craft got him through the perimeter security without breaking a sweat. Leon and Jack, however, carefully worked their way through the crushing parts of the crowd, exploiting every advantage to remain unseen.

The team gathered back together in the preset subway station. Leon relayed the story of how an “Irene” had come to the office two weeks ago with “an invitation from her boss” and passed tickets to a box at today’s Gladiatorial Bouts. Obviously things hadn’t gone to plan… or it was a setup.

Jack commed Lux and had him pass along a message to the Praetorian Guard who had stormed the box where their aborted meet had taken place. They passed along Irene’s photo (from her ticket drop) and had Lux run down her home address. Leon rented a ground car that Arc drove toward her apartment, where they set up surveillance.

Sometime later, a pair of Praetorian Guards showed up to investigate Irene’s. Leon called Irene’s phone, then a second time when she didn’t answer the first time. She answered… and Leon let her know that he knew the guards were present, that they were watching. She put him on speaker, where Leon explained that they’d gone to the meet that Irene had set–and that the team had no idea who she’d represented until the guards showed up. Despite some reserve on the guards’ part, Leon pointing out that they had no need to expose themselves with the call was persuasive.

The team watched them lead Irene away for further investigation and gathered to plot their next step. Jack started calling his network of ex-military contacts; after a few “heard nothing” calls, he got through to Cosma. She’d heard some things he might be interested in…

They set a meet for an hour, then drove to arrive 45 minutes early. Leon dropped off Arc and Jack, then parked the car in a garage a few blocks away, ready to respond if called. Arc took a seat at a separate shadowed table and worked his way through a club sandwich methodically, while Jack fiddled with the camera he’d placed in the hall, keeping an eye out for Cosma.

Her information was pricier than expected, but she had a time and place for them to investigate. In the background, Lux sorted through camera feeds, finally catching a pair of men approaching… someone, probably the senator, and firing a concealed dart into the senator’s back. He stiffened; they walked him to a nearby alley where a distorted blue flash-perhaps of a taser-could just be made out.

1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline

A smart book told pretty well. The interconnection between the late bronze age empires was interesting–there’s evidence that the world was quite interconnected. Unfortunately, there were a lot of threats in the black space beyond their boundaries… but even that is questionable.

A major focus of this book is rewriting the conventional narrative of a wave of barbarians overrunning these empires. While there’s evidence of new cultures moving into areas where others had been, few of the excavations have revealed a time of war, with arrowheads embedded in walls and the like.

Reading between the lines, it appears that the world was becoming more cosmopolitan at the elite level; Egypt was hiring Minoans to paint their tombs, grain and gold flowed between the related empires.

The book is somewhat oddly structured, due to its anchor points in archaeology. Rather than a chronological or empire specific history, we instead thread forward then shift and restart. It left me with less of a clear view of the “start point” of 1750 b.c.; was it isolated cities rebuilding themselves into empires?

Anyway, it’s very accessible and has parallels to even the world today. The open questions at the end (figuring out what caused everything) are still quite open–in a lot of ways, the answer appears to be “a lot of small things” rather than a barbarian horde. I finished the book with a very different view of the cultural interactions between the ancient empires — there was a lot of peaceful trade and stable borders for 200+ years. It also left we with an idea of just how much more there is to figure out about that collapse.

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

The beginning of a cool series, I hope. It follows Vaelin Al Sorna; most of the book focuses on his teens, where he is apprenticed to the Sixth Order. It’s a tough life of dedication–something of a cross between a military boarding school and a monastic order.

There are politics going on in the background–among the Aspects, the nobility, and more. They’re intriguing and complex, particularly from a young “don’t know the players” POV–but it’s not just politicking for the sake of screwing people over, or hat trick deaths.

I like the main character and his brothers… and look forward to seeing how the story progresses.

Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud by David Dayen

Detailed and engaging, it’s the story of the mortgage crisis, centered on three people. One was a lawyer, but the other two were just willing to read and research… and uncovered terrible breakdowns in the mortgage and security processes.

It becomes clear just how extensive the malfeasance of the banks was, and how eager all levels of government were to sweep the shambles of our title system under the carpet and move on.