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Monday, December 16th, 2013

Time Event
Books of 2013
Freighter Captain by Max Hardberger
When retired captains sat around drinking and swapping sea stories, Max noticed he always had the topper for Worst Ship, Worst Port, and Worst Owner. Then he noticed they were all about the same few cruises and decided to write it up. This is a view of the bottom end of the shipping industry, a senile tramp freighter hauling trash to Haiti. Max tells it well and made me enjoy the tales of fixing leaking hulls, fending off corrupt port officials, and talking unpaid crew into not jumping ship.

Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George
George took a tour on a container ship to see how this massive business works. The answer is "too smoothly to be dramatic," but she looks into the history of shipping to bring more exciting moments in. The travails of merchant seamen in WWII are well worth reading.

Lights in the Deep by Brad R. Torgersen
A collection of short stories from a new author. Some of them are solid hard science fiction (okay, I caught some errors, but I don't think anyone who didn't do astrodynamics for a living would) and the whole set are fun stories. Torgersen lets his characters have happy endings even when the disasters going on are severe enough that "happy" is a relative term. I prefer hope to despair and enjoyed these.

Captain's Share by Nathan Lowell
Latest (print) publication in the "Quarter Share" series. Fun slice-of-life space opera. The drama level is higher than in the earlier books, but not as nasty as in Double Share. Our hero turns a "leper colony" ship into a well-performing organization by applying common sense and discovering that his subordinates are actually just misunderstood.

America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century-Why America's Greatest Days Are Yet to Come by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus
An excellent take on the country's current troubles with a set of solid recommendations for how to fix it. I gave this a review when I first read it.

The End Is Near and It's Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure by Kevin D. Williamson
An entertaining write-up of the on-going collapse of centralized government and explanation of how decentralized systems can do a better job. My review focused on the lack of suggestions for how to get from A to B.

Hard Magic, Spellbound, Warbound (The Grimnoir Chronicles) by Larry Correia
A self-contained fantasy trilogy. That's an impressive rarity by itself these days. It's actually closer to alternate history. In this case the "divergence point" is the appearance of magical abilities among humans in the 19th century. This has had all sorts of effects, including boosting Japan to superpower status thanks to its brutally effective use of talents. The story is set in the 1930s and our heros are a quiet conspiracy opposing evil magic users. Over the course of the trilogy they find out where magic came from, why that's a problem, and . . . drama.

Monster Hunter International / Vendetta / Alpha by Larry Correia
I'd originally bounced off MHI as "Buffy with guns." I liked the Grimnoir books enough to go back and give it another try. I also wanted to find out what was behind some of the in-jokes on the MHI challenge coin kickstarter. Not as deep as Grimnoir, but a very fun romp. I'll be picking up book four soon, and Correia's working on book five.

A Few Good Men by Sarah Hoyt
Hoyt's Darkship Thieves' series is a fun ride in a future history that has had feudal overlords take over the Earth in the wake of a nasty war, with a single free community hiding out on an asteroid. Now they've recontacted each other which is shaking things up on both sides. This book focuses on Earth, where a visit from some spacers kicked loose some stones that are becoming an avalanche. A bloody revolution is beginning against the overlords. Hoyt doesn't shy away from some of the nasty problems. How a new world is going to be built on the ruins is still an open question.

The Virginia Edition: A Sample of the Series by Robert Heinlein
I love Heinlein's work, but even if I had $2000 to spare I'm not sure where I'd put a leatherbound copy of his complete works. What I do want to have is e-versions of the previously unpublished material in the collection: letters, screenplays, and more. Hopefully they'll share that when the hardcopies are all sold.

Singularity Rising: Surviving and Thriving in a Smarter, Richer, and More Dangerous World by James D. Miller
I've been leaving out books that I didn't finish, but this one is an exception. Miller has a bunch of interesting ideas but he's too prone to "divide by zero" errors. Sure, if developing a self-replicating nanotech assembler or a smarter-than-human artificial intelligence is instant and free there'll be all sorts of bizzare consequences. But the Singularity isn'g going to repeal the laws of thermodynamics, and businessmen won't risk blowing up the world to avoid a utopia that will profit their competitors as much as their investors. I've been tempted to write a lengthy rebuttal but instead I'm focusing on finishing my novel-in-progress.

Salamander by David D. Friedman
A short fantasy novel. I enjoyed the heck out of the heros wrestling with the laws of their magic system to discover how to create great effects. Non-engineers might not be as big fans.

Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo
Apocalypse as a rebuttal. Ringo hates zombie stories for their violations of thermodynamics and biology. So, of course, he had to explain how it should be done right. Add in his worries about Moore's Law of Mad Scientists leading to bioengineered plagues and we get the Muse seizing his brain and forcing him to crank out a trilogy in less time than it takes to read three of GRRM's books. The first book has our heros fleeing the spreading disaster to hide out on a boat at sea. Once the danger fades civilization has to be rebuilt, and they'll have to step up and lead the effort. Step one: getting rid of those lingering mobs of zombies. Step two: keeping emaciated survivors alive. Step three: some organization . . . I'm looking forward to books two and three, which Baen is bringing out in rapid succession, undoubtedly to the dismay of other authors who were originally scheduled for those slots.

I've been reading various writing-advice books as I work on my novel. I've actually found some useful:

Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland
Focuses on making your story powerful rather than merely competent. I'm not worried about getting Hollywood's attention, but I do want to make my readers happy. Farland provoked me to scrap my opening scene and replace it with something completely different.

May You Write Interesting Books by Sarah A. Hoyt
How to keep your readers from getting bored. I think I'm doing pretty well on this front in my writing--and this one was much less boring than most of the advice books I've tried out--but I suspect I'll be taking another pass through this one after I've finished my zero draft.

Writing Excuses Podcast by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler
Not a book, but I picked up the seasons 1-5 disk at Worldcon after they won the Hugo. It turns out the car leg of my commute is just long enough to fit an episode in. I've also been marathoning episodes when driving to Austin, College Station, or Guard training. So I'm close to the end of Season Five already. Lots of good stuff in here. The biggest help is probably that it keeps me in a writing headspace so much of the time.

Not mentioned: lots of re-reads, various books I didn't finish or found unhelpful, and a whole lot of Kindle sample chapters.

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