Book Review: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

WanderersWanderers by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every day I went into the office for work or hung out with friends instead of reading this book, I was very torn. I was riveted by this book. The concept of sleepwalkers making their way across the US is a fascinating idea and I can see why Mr. Wendig decided this idea was worth fleshing out into a full book.

This book does an amazing job of combining real risks, such as pandemics and white supremacy with the fantastic, AI that can talk across time using Quantum entanglement, Nanobots that can put people into a stasis mode (while making them walk around) for almost 6 years. While telling a compelling believable story. Even the fantastical parts of the story, could very literally be fact in a number of years. We have no idea how AI might work with Quantum computing in a few years.

The truth is, Wendig pulled back the veil on how close we are as a society to a catastrophic pandemic. How easy it would be for a plague to spread if the right person was infected. He does a fantastic job of show how fragile the entire US system is, because of people like Alex Jones. Because Alex Jones doesn’t believe what he’s spewing, but there are a lot of people that do believe it. That weaponize it. Wendig is clearly taking the Trumpian politics of 2019 and imposing them on a catastrophe.

That’s just the backdrop though. The characters he writes about are living breathing people. Many of them, I feel like I grew up with or that I have known in my life. The aging RockGod feels like an authentic person. Someone that probably exists and is lost and lonely. There are people who have lived and lost and they are only teenagers, barely having started their lives and they’re already so far behind. Then they lose more because a family member becomes a sleepwalker.

The human element in this book is beautifully tragic and so very human. I loved this book.

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Book Review: Rebel Talent by Francesca Gino

Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in LifeRebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life by Francesca Gino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was requested to review this book, because the author found my review of Creativity, Inc. After reading this book, I understood why.

The Author, Francesca Gino, provides some very actionable recommendations on how to be more authentic in the workplace and how that can positively impact your career. She calls this being a rebel, because it’s not allowing the status quo to continue when it forces people to be inauthentic and dramatically decreases the engagement of employees at companies.

This book spoke to me on a number of levels. First was, of course, the relationship with Creativity Inc. Gino interviews the team at Pixar and draws a number of lessons from the organization, which has a long history of success. Some of the best things she calls out actually come from even older organizations, like Bell Labs (long corridors to find the restroom encouraging people bumping into each other) and Xerox where Jobs learned his love of the computing. The other reason I’m a big fan of this section is that Pixar uses a number of Lean tools in their organization, which I believe are highly subversive and drives a lot of the behavior that Gino argues is Rebel talent. In this section she doesn’t specifically call out Lean as a methodology that Pixar uses, which is fine. The result and the tools that the team uses are what matters not the specific methodology.

A key skill Gino argues is the most important for a true rebel leader is connecting with other employees. In the case of hierarchical leaders, as well, like CEOs, this means going to where work is done. In Lean parlance this is Go To Gemba (go to the work). As a leader, you connect best when you are authentic, when you care about the people you are talking with and make changes based on the feedback provided.

Of course, there’s a large section on the Chef of Osteria Francescana, Massimo Bottura. This guys is pretty awesome and connects with his staff on a personal level. If you’ve seen Chef’s Table, then you’ve seen an episode about him. He’s humble, always trying new things, always learning, and always in the trenches with his staff. These make him an outstanding leader.

Gino ties all this together with two summaries, the first one is a section about how Bottura saves an industry and region by being a leader. This does a great job tying things together by showing the scale of impact a single person can have. The second summary really ties all these concepts into something you can use by providing you with a test and informs you with what type of rebel leader you are.

I think this book has a lot of powerful ideas. It is similar to The Originals where it analyzes key people for common traits. Gino pulls in a large amount of research, both her own and others, to really hammer home the idea that we can learn these skills. Which, to me, is a key difference between the two books. The first one talks about how people are raised to BE original, while Rebel Talent explains ways you can BECOME an Original.

The book well written and was a very personal story. I definitely recommend this book for anyone looking for an edge. However, I strongly recommend this book to women. In this book there’s a large section about being a woman leader in the work force and I think the ideas presented in this book will help any woman out there. I think every man should read that section as it will help men understand their biases in the work place and can help address them in a systemic way.

I am a “Climber” type leader.

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Review of Farsighted by @StevenBJohnson

Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the MostFarsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most by Steven Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Steven Johnson is always an interesting read. I’ve been a fan of his since I initially read “Where Good Ideas Come From.” In this book, he clearly begins with the question of “how do we make good decisions?” In a way, this book is the natural sequel (if it can be said that non-fiction books can have sequels), to Ideas. If you wonder how you come up with an interesting idea, the process is similar to coming up with a good decision – or at least an informed methodical decision.

Like ideas, decisions don’t really come from the blue. Even the famous stories that Gladwell discusses in Blink, come from a long history of experience and relate to the amount of information that we have about a given situation. Now, we can of course, come to a decision without all the information we need. In fact, it’s guaranteed that this will happen. We never have all the information we ever need to make a decision. This book takes that as an axiom, clearly stated and referenced throughout the book. It’s not just a one off obvious statement. Johnson notes that the uncertainty of the outcome prevents a perfect decision plus, the fact that we cannot test what a decision would do before taking action. The best we can do is simulate and for most decisions, the best way to simulate is to tell a story.

In fact, day dreaming is one of the best ways for us to tell a story about how life could be different or how we could positively impact our lives. For example, if you’re thinking of getting a new job, day dreaming about how that job can improve your life is a great way of helping understand the impacts of your decision making process.

This book includes a number of real life examples of complex decisions that went well or went poorly. In the cases where things went well he digs into the decision making process and how these tools made an effective case for following the decision that was ultimately used. In the cases where things went poorly, he investigates the blindspots that lead to the poor decision (including a couple personal anecdotes) and the result.

I found this book to be really helpful and believe that it provides tools that can help improve our deliberation process.

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Review: The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

The Queen of Crows (The Sacred Throne, #2)The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a quick read. I wouldn’t say it’s a light read, there’s definitely some serious heavy material covered in this book. It doesn’t hit you over the head with the parallels to the Inquisition as the first one did, but it didn’t need to. That was already established in the fantastic first book. This book continues where the Armored Saint left off, Heloise trying to protect her family. Like the first book, it’s brutal, the heroine does not have an easy time of things and isn’t perfect. She’s young, very inexperienced at fighting, and making it up as she goes. She pays for it. So does her community. You want her to be perfect and succeed, much like Barnard does. She’s flawed, human, and great though.

This book really delivers in a lot of ways. If you’re looking for an easy entrance into the fantasy genre and want to have a strong female lead (who is also a lesbian), this book is definitely for you.

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Review: The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2)The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really interesting read. As the sequel to the three body problem, which primarily focuses on how to human ingenuity can help solve the Three Body Problem for beings on that planet, this one focuses much more on humanity’s hubris. This manifests in a number of ways. First, is the fact that humanity has the audacity of believing that even in 400 years, with the cards stacked against us, that we can defeat a civilization so technologically advanced, that they seemingly have magical abilities to block the frontier of physics.

To take on the Trisolarians the UN commissions a project called the Wallfacer, which is was a project designed to ensure the Trisolarians had no idea what Humanity’s plan was to defeat them. There were four in total. each one pursued a different tract than the others. However, the Trisolarians had their own plan, the Wallbreaker project which was designed to uncover the true plan the Wallfacers developed.

The ideas were all interesting and all desperate, but Humanity in its hubris truly believed there was a solution that would have left them with minimal risk. Which leads to interesting problems in the book.

Overall, the book was well written, but there’s a big problem with the book. The characters don’t really speak differently nor do they really feel different. There are a few exceptions Da Shi and Luo Ji being the most obvious. Aside from their interactions, it’s easy for the reader to get lost in determining who is speaking whenever there’s extensive exposition or explanation of a Wallfacer plan or someone’s specific ideology. Compared to a philosophy book, like the Republic, this isn’t really out of line. However, more many sci-fi readers this might be difficult to follow.

Overall, I really enjoyed what I read and once I got back into the world, I quickly finished the book.

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Review: Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, first, I want to apologize to Ms. Jemisn, because I’m only writing one review for this trilogy instead of the three I’d normally write. However, in my defense I read all three books in a span of about a week and at this point I only can think of this trilogy as a single long book.

This book was fantastically written. I loved the diversity of the characters. I really thought it was great that the bulk of the main characters were women. That’s really refreshing in a male dominated genre like fantasy. The magic system was really unique and I loved how it evolved and changed over the course of the book.

The world building in this series is fantastic. The world feels like it could be a moderately different version of earth, if there was magic. For the longest time I thought it was our Earth, I’m still not entirely convinced it’s not, because of the elements that call back to our time now. Which I think really added to the story over all.

So what is the story? Well, basically the earth has been broken and is actively waging a war with humanity and every other animal on earth. Why? because we pissed it off and caused the war. This is all explained in the book and in some interesting ways.

There two overall themes in the book, mother/daughter and bigotry. Both are handled with grace. The bigotry is interesting, because it’s reinforced by a major political faction, which could be seen as analogous to police officers. These are, in most respects, the most important branch within the government and allow other portions of the government to rule.

I definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for something outside your normal buff fighter and clever wizards. The characters feel real. Each book raises the stakes which drives you to keep reading.

Buy these books.

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Book Review: Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig

Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful NarrativeDamn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the third or fourth writing book that I’ve read. Two have been on technical writing and one has been on the Snowflake method. Each book is useful in a specific context. The first two were for helping me professionally to create great help site material. While the Snowflake method has helped me with the managing the structure of the store. This book is something else. It’s about how to tell the story that goes within that structure. Which, given that I’m working on a book right now, is really helpful.

This is not a dry technical book. It’s not a “theory of writing” book that you might find at a university that sucks the life out of writing. It frames writing as means to tell a story. It does this through a lot of stories. Funny stories. Stories Chuck has lived. It also does this through stories most people have read or, at least, watched. So if you haven’t seen the original Star Wars trilogy or Die Hard you’re in for some serious spoilers.

The book provides a number of story telling rules, which I plan to reference frequently. Some of these, I think, are pretty intuitive, some are not. Or maybe, I’ve just gotten lucky with the writing I’ve done so far and happened to stumble upon them.

If you’re thinking of doing any story telling, either as part of a white collar job or as a professional story teller or just want to tell more interesting stories at parties, this book is for you. He uses stories that he’s told at parties a ton of times as a way to frame many of the rules he offers. So this book can certainly help with your boring stories that make my eyes glaze over.

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