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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Book Review: God’s Last Breath by Sam Sykes

God's Last Breath (Bring Down Heaven, #3)God’s Last Breath by Sam Sykes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the great conclusion of the Bring Down Heaven trilogy. I loved it. At the end of book two, the characters were scattered to the wind and it looked like there was no way for them to ever have closure in a meaningful way with each other. Sam skillfully managed to do this. His characters grew in unexpected way, where one was full of hubris at the beginning of the trilogy and thoughtless to other people’s emotions, they became much more empathetic. Another character may have felt helpless, but was able to rally people to their cause in a manner that would have felt absurd if it was told that after starting the first book. Sam made these transitions feel authentic and earned.

This book did a fantastic job closing the series which I loved from beginning to end.

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Book Review: The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

The Armored Saint (The Sacred Throne, #1)The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is a fantasy book that every woman and girl should read. The main character is such a believable character and I think we can think of a number of women in our lives that are as brave and bold as her.

This book is a fast read. Only took me a couple of hours to read. However, those few hours went by way too fast. The style is easy to read and could certainty be read by anyone in middle school or older (based on the style). As the blurb about the book states, this world is a pretty dark place. if this was set in the future, it’d certainly be a dystopian future. The world is controlled by a puritanical religious order with strict rules about how people should live. Which includes roles for everyone and a religiously entrenched Patriarchy.

Heliose chafes under the Order, as its called, because she doesn’t want to be controlled by a husband nor does she think the Order is truly just. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of the villagers, don’t truly believe in the religion as deeply as they should to avoid the Order’s wrath.

Heliose causes change by being herself. By standing up for what she believes in, even if it causes her and her loved one’s pain. However, she’s truly altruistic in this (even if they get hurt) because she’s doing this for them or her love for them. This is complicated by who she loves, which is something society rejects.

I cannot wait for the sequel to this book. It was a fun book dealing with weighty societal issues, done in a sensitive way, in an engaging world, with an exciting climax. Highly recommend for generally light quick reading.

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