Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: The Hugo Winners 1955-1961

The Hugo Winners 1955-1961
The Hugo Winners 1955-1961 by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this in the light of the recent Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies controversy over the 2015 Hugo Awards. While I am certain there were factions and groups in the fifties and sixties in SF it appears that for these years they did not negatively impact the quality of the winners. This is a great collection with Isaac Asimov's signature wit and warm remembrances serving as introductions to each story. The highlights for me were Russell's hilarious "Allamagoosa" and Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon". Highly recommended! Individual rankings below:

Isaac Asimov - Editorial Matters - *****
Walter M. Miller, Jr. - The Darfsteller - 1955 Novelette - ****
Eric Frank Russell - Allamagoosa - 1955 Short Story - *****
Murray Leinster - Exploration Team - 1956 Novelette -****
Arthur C. Clarke - The Star - 1956 Short Story - ***
Avram Davidson - Or All the Seas with Oysters - 1958 Short Story - ****
Clifford D. Simak - The Big Front Yard - 1959 Novelette - ****
Rober Bloch - The Hell-Bound Train - 1959 Short Story - ****
Daniel Keyes - Flowers for Algernon - 1960 Novelette - *****
Poul Anderson - The Longest Voyage - 1961 Novelette - ****

Overall Collection - *****

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review: Steampunk Back to the Future with the New Victorians

Steampunk Back to the Future with the New Victorians
Steampunk Back to the Future with the New Victorians by Paul Roland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was provided in eArc format by NetGalley in exchange for a review.

Overall this is a nice introduction to steampunk culture by one who was there at the beginning. Numerous aspects of steampunk are covered such as literature, music, movies, design, and fashion.

Roland is nothing if not opinionated and can come off rather dismissive in places of others' opinions. In fact he often makes pronouncement that suggest that he and he alone is the arbiter of what is and is not steampunk. Examples include suggesting that the Will Smith feature, Wild Wild West could be ignored as steampunk as it was "so goddamn awful." And that other steampunk favorites such as Brazil, and the Adventures of Baron Munchausen were unworthy of the name saying, "Call [them] Steampunk if you must, but do it in your world, not in ours. Thank you." Worse still in this steampunk's mind is the neglect of my favorite steampunk band, The Men Who Would Not Be Blamed for Nothing.

If you are a steampunk novice this is a goof place to start but do not neglect to read the Steampunk Bible by Jeff VanderMeer for a more balanced vision. Steam on!

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Review: How Google Works

How Google Works
How Google Works by Eric Schmidt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two of the Google principals explain the principles behind Google's success. The focus is on flexibility and the hiring of "Smart Creatives". The book discusses famous Google ideas such as 20% time and Google labs. While the ideas here have been covered in other works on the company, the presentation is entertaining and informative and the idea that you only hire the very best people and give them the room and flexibility to do their thing bears repeating. Obviously issues such as the impact of Google's growth and recent reliance on contract employees in recent years is not covered extensively. This work focuses primarily on Google's most productive period.

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Review: BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google

BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google
BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Palfrey is a noted academic and educator who has served as head of the Harvard law Library (as a non-librarian), as a leading proponent and President of the board of the Digital Public Library of America, and is now the head of the Andover Academy. He has written extensively on the intersection of technology and information.

This book makes the argument that the role of libraries should expand as technology advances. He believes that in order to remain relevant that libraries need to learn to adapt to these changes. Specifically, libraries need to embrace the transition from print to digital information and the transformation of the role of the physical space of libraries from an area for book storage to an area for community building and knowledge creation.. He prescribes a steady transition rather than an abrupt one but makes it very clear that these changes are necessary and that in those cases where old services conflict or are incompatible with new ones that the new ones need to move out.

These recommendations can seem harsh from a person outside of the librarian fraternity but Palfrey's reverence for libraries and his continual acknowledgement of librarians who are already moving in this direction makes things more palatable.

Libraries are understandably slow to change, this is one of the reasons libraries have lasted so long. However, in the digital age all organizations have to adapt more quickly - libraries included. There are worse places to start than the ideas in this book. Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: Operation: Outer Space

Operation: Outer Space
Operation: Outer Space by Murray Leinster

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this as part of the "Startling Stories" Spring 2009 magazine. The magazine combines new and classic material and in this issue features Operation: Outer Space.

In this short novel Leinster follows the somewhat coincidental development of interstellar space travel as an unplanned side effect of the psychiatric treatment of a wealthy scientist with self-concept issues.

The overcrowded Earth portrayed in the novel is one where individuals have little hope of advancement and Leinster does an excellent job of showing the psychological impact of this. The main character, Jed Cochrane, is a television producer who cleverly finances the development of interstellar travel through the production of a reality series and in so doing restores hope to humanity. There is also a strong theme throughout the book of man's separation from nature due to the urbanization of Earth and the healing aspects of a return to a more naturalistic setting.

Characterization is fairly strong for a novel first published in 1954. Recommended.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: Operation Arcana

Operation Arcana
Operation Arcana by John Joseph Adams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Joseph Adams, publisher of _Lightspeed_ magazine and editor of a large number of themed anthologies, gathers together here sixteen stories under the general theme of magical military operations. The stories range from modern incursions into fantasy/magical lands such as in David Klecha and Tobias S. Bucknell's "Rules of Enchantment" to Tanya Huff's shape-shifting story "Steel Ships".

As different as the stories selected were, they each brought a fresh perspective to the theme and they were uniformly enjoyable. It is hard to pick a favorite though Simon R. Green's "Bombers Moon" which is set in a WWII where in the Axis Powers have sought demonic assistance which is matched by angelic assistance for the allies would be a good candidate.

If you are a fan of military science fiction or fantasy, If you enjoy a little magic with your combat ops, or if you just want to sample some of the best short stories out there I recommend that you give _Operation Arcana_ a shot!

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