Unpredictable technology

I was reading an old interview with William Gibson, one of my favorites:

220px-William_Ford_Gibson[Gibson:] The strongest impacts of an emergent technology are always unanticipated. You can’t know what people are going to do until they get their hands on it and start using it on a daily basis, using it to make a buck and u­sing it for criminal purposes and all the different things that people do. The people who invented pagers, for instance, never imagined that they would change the shape of urban drug dealing all over the world. But pagers so completely changed drug dealing that they ultimately resulted in pay phones being removed from cities as part of a strategy to prevent them from becoming illicit drug markets. We’re increasingly aware that our society is driven by these unpredictable uses we find for the products of our imagination.

David Wallace-Wells, “The Art of Fiction: No. 211,” The Paris Review (Summer 2011) [link]

 

Reflection on a Year’s Reading

One nice thing about this site is that it gives me a place to keep track of the books I am reading. It has allowed me to be a little more introspective about what I read. (I seem to require a couple of books a week to maintain my sanity.) About a third of my reading is re-reading, which makes sense to me, anyhow. Wouldn’t you want to go back and visit old friends in addition to meeting new ones?*

station elevenMy favorite newly-discovered author of the last year is probably Emily St. John Mandel. I read Station Eleven, then picked up Last Night in Montreal, and The Lola Quartet, and enjoyed all three. Yes, they are quirky and have some repetitive elements, but I liked Ms. Mandel’s writing and will continue to follow her.

indexThe best new** fiction I read this year includes (in no particular order) Andy Weir, The Martian (2014), Stephen L. Carter, Back Channel (2014), Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (2014), William Gibson, The Peripheral (2014), Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (2014), David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks (2014), and Neal Stephenson, seveneves (2015).  All were well-crafted and enjoyable, but I will let you look elsewhere for reviews.  I usually pre-order anything by Gibson, Carter and Stevenson, and will probably add Mandel and Weir to that list.

51Qm5bXG9NL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I read two excellent new** nonfiction books: Margaret Lazarus Dean, Leaving Orbit (2015); and Jeff Smith, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison (2015). Mr. Smith was the most horrifying book I read recently,*** as it was an account of a politician who was sent to prison for a year for lying about a fairly minor campaign violation.

Rickey&RobinsonEric Metaxas’ Miracles (2014) was strikingly different from C.S. Lewis’ book of the same name. Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor (2014) was an encouragement about the significance of work.  Roger Kahn’s Rickey and Robinson (2014) was a great story about baseball and society by someone who lived through those important years when baseball was being integrated.

And how did I miss this one when it first came out: Cheryl Strayed, Wild (2012), a fascinating account of a troubled woman who walks the Pacific Crest Trail? Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light (2013) (last part of WWII in Europe) was well worth the 900-page investment.

Caveat Lector.  It should go without saying that some of these will be uninteresting, unedifying, or even upsetting for some readers.  What I think I can assure you is that none of these books are poorly written.   Let me know if you have any thoughts about these or others on my sidebar.

*My favorite old friend this year was probably Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (1996), though I did love (again) the Sword of Honor Trilogy, Pattern Recognition, LoTR, and That Hideous Strength.

**Published since January 2014.

***This is saying a lot since I also read Michael Faber, Under the Skin (2000) and Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1998), two astoundingly creepy books.