Monday, December 31, 2018

Here are my picks for the best books of 2018, fiction and nonfiction. These aren't the best books published this year, but rather the best I've read in the last twelve months. The winner in both categories is barely distinguished from the pack, and the runners up are all worthy of reading. Runners up appear in alphabetical order by their author's surname. Each title is linked to my review of the book. Fiction: Winner: A Rambling Wreck and The Brave and the Bold by Hans G. Schantz I am jointly choosing these two novels as fiction books of the year....

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Stross, Charles. Iron Sunrise. New York: Ace, 2005. ISBN 978-0-441-01296-1. In Accelerando (July 2011), a novel assembled from nine previously-published short stories, the author chronicles the arrival of a technological singularity on Earth: the almost-instantaneously emerging super-intellect called the Eschaton which departed the planet toward the stars. Simultaneously, nine-tenths of Earth's population vanished overnight, and those left behind, after a period of chaos, found that with the end of scarcity brought about by “cornucopia machines” produced in the first phase of the singularity, they could dispense with anachronisms such as economic systems and government. After humans achieved faster than light travel,...

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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

By the time I was in high school in the 1960s, the origin of the chemical elements seemed pretty clear. Hydrogen was created in the Big Bang, and very shortly afterward about one quarter of it fused to make helium with a little bit of lithium. (This process is now called Big Bang nucleosynthesis, and models of it agree very well with astronomical observations of primordial gases in the universe.) All of the heavier elements, including the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen which, along with hydrogen, make up our bodies and all other living things on Earth, were made in...

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Monday, December 24, 2018

Burrough, Bryan. Days of Rage. New York: Penguin Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-14-310797-2. In the year 1972, there were more than 1900 domestic bombings in the United States. Think about that—that's more than five bombings a day. In an era when the occasional terrorist act by a “lone wolf” nutcase gets round the clock coverage on cable news channels, it's hard to imagine that not so long ago, most of these bombings and other mayhem, committed by “revolutionary” groups such as Weatherman, the Black Liberation Army, FALN, and The Family, often made only local newspapers on page B37, below the fold....

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Marighella, Carlos. Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla. Seattle: CreateSpace, [1970] 2018. ISBN 978-1-4664-0680-3. Carlos Marighella joined the Brazilian Communist Party in 1934, abandoning his studies in civil engineering to become a full time agitator for communism. He was arrested for subversion in 1936 and, after release from prison the following year, went underground. He was recaptured in 1939 and imprisoned until 1945 as part of an amnesty of political prisoners. He successfully ran for the federal assembly in 1946 but was removed from office when the Communist party was again banned in 1948. Resuming his clandestine life, he served in...

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Cawdron, Peter. Losing Mars. Brisbane, Australia: Independent, 2018. ISBN 978-1-7237-4729-8. Peter Cawdron has established himself as the contemporary grandmaster of first contact science fiction. In a series of novels including Anomaly (December 2011), Xenophobia (August 2013), Little Green Men (September 2013), Feedback (February 2014), and My Sweet Satan (September 2014), he has explored the first encounter of humans with extraterrestrial life in a variety of scenarios, all with twists and turns that make you question the definition of life and intelligence. This novel is set on Mars, where a nominally international but strongly NASA-dominated station has been set up by the six-person crew first to...

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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin, Vol. 1: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928. New York: Penguin Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-14-312786-4. In a Levada Center poll in 2017, Russians who responded named Joseph Stalin the “most outstanding person” in world history. Now, you can argue about the meaning of “outstanding”, but it's pretty remarkable that citizens of a country whose chief of government (albeit several regimes ago) presided over an entirely avoidable famine which killed millions of citizens of his country, ordered purges which executed more than 700,000 people, including senior military leadership, leaving his nation unprepared for the German attack in 1941, which would,...

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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Kluger, Jeffrey. Apollo 8. New York: Picador, 2017. ISBN 978-1-250-18251-7. As the tumultuous year 1968 drew to a close, NASA faced a serious problem with the Apollo project. The Apollo missions had been carefully planned to test the Saturn V booster rocket and spacecraft (Command/Service Module [CSM] and Lunar Module [LM]) in a series of increasingly ambitious missions, first in low Earth orbit (where an immediate return to Earth was possible in case of problems), then in an elliptical Earth orbit which would exercise the on-board guidance and navigation systems, followed by lunar orbit, and finally proceeding to the first...

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Schlichter, Kurt. People's Republic. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2016. ISBN 978-1-5390-1895-7. As the third decade of the twenty-first century progressed, the Cold Civil War which had been escalating in the United States since before the turn of the century turned hot when a Democrat administration decided to impose their full agenda—gun confiscation, amnesty for all illegal aliens, restrictions on fossil fuels—all at once by executive order. The heartland defied the power grab and militias of the left and right began to clash openly. Although the senior officer corps were largely converged to the leftist agenda, the military rank and file which hailed...

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Shoemaker, Martin L. Blue Collar Space. Seattle: CreateSpace [Old Town Press], 2018. ISBN 978-1-7170-5188-2. This book is a collection of short stories, set in three different locales. The first part, “Old Town Tales”, are set on the Moon and revolve around yarns told at the best bar on Luna. The second part, “The Planet Next Door”, are stories set on Mars, while the third, “The Pournelle Settlements”, take place in mining settlements in the Jupiter system. Most of the stories take place in established settlements; they are not tales of square-jawed pioneers opening up the frontier, but rather ordinary people...

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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Mahon, Basil. The Forgotten Genius of Oliver Heaviside. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2017. ISBN 978-1-63388-331-4. At age eleven, in 1861, young Oliver Heaviside's family, supported by his father's irregular income as an engraver of woodblock illustrations for publications (an art beginning to be threatened by the advent of photography) and a day school for girls operated by his mother in the family's house, received a small legacy which allowed them to move to a better part of London and enroll Oliver in the prestigious Camden House School, where he ranked among the top of his class, taking thirteen subjects including...

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Friday, November 2, 2018

I have just posted version 1.5 of ISBNiser, a utility for validating ISBN publication numbers in the ISBN-13 and ISBN-10 formats, converting between the formats, and generating Amazon associate links to purchase items with credit to a specified account. Version 1.5 includes a feature added to support the new ISBNquest Web application. A new −d option selects “database” format output in which the result for every ISBN on the command line is a single-line comma-separated value record containing fields as follows. Fields which may contain non-alphanumeric characters are always enclosed in double quotes. Status: numeric status 200   Normal, ISBN-13...

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Thursday, November 1, 2018

If you work with books, you'll frequently need to deal with International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs), those 13 digit (or 10 character for older publications) codes which uniquely identify the precise edition of a work. (For example, a hardcover, paperback, and each electronic format of the same book will have its own ISBN.) ISBNs are central to the publishing industry and booksellers, both on-line and brick and mortar. As I read and review lots of books, I find myself frequently dealing with ISBNs, needing to interconvert the 13 and 10 digit forms, correct punctuation of the parts of ISBNs (some...

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Saturday, October 27, 2018

Schantz, Hans G. The Brave and the Bold. Huntsville, AL: ÆtherCzar, 2018. ISBN 978-1-7287-2274-0. This the third novel in the author's Hidden Truth series. In the first book (December 2017) we met high schoolers and best friends Pete Burdell and Amit Patel who found, in dusty library books, knowledge apparently discovered by the pioneers of classical electromagnetism (many of whom died young), but which does not figure in modern works, even purported republications of the original sources they had consulted. In the second, A Rambling Wreck (May 2018), Pete and Amit, now freshmen at Georgia Tech, delve deeper into the suppressed mysteries...

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Churchill, Winston S. Savrola. Seattle: CreateSpace, [1898, 1900] 2018. ISBN 978-1-7271-2358-6. In 1897, the young (23 year old) Winston Churchill, on an ocean voyage from Britain to India to rejoin the army in the Malakand campaign of 1897, turned his pen to fiction and began this, his first and only novel. He set the work aside to write The Story of the Malakand Field Force, an account of the fighting and his first published work of non-fiction, then returned to the novel, completing it in 1898. It was serialised in Macmillan's Magazine in that year. (Churchill's working title, Affairs of...

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