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Mon, 29 Mar 2010

March 2010 in books

Some of these reviews can also be found on Amazon.

In March 2010 I read the following books:

What I Love About Cricket, by Sandy Balfour

I was given this by a friend who'd already read it and wasn't particularly impressed by it, on the condition that after finishing it, I pass it on. So I'll do that. Tomorrow I'll leave it on a train, and some random stranger can pick it up. And I'll do it regretfully, because I actually quite enjoyed it. Sure, it doesn't say much about anything - least of all what the author loves about cricket - and I can't remember a damned thing of any significance about it, but even so, it was an enjoyable read. I recommend that you buy it. Unless you find it on the train tomorrow. I'll be buying it too.

A Mathematician's Apology, by G. H. Hardy

This essay by one of the great pure mathematicians is rightly famous, but not for the right reasons. The author's central thesis - that real mathematics is, like the other forms of art, wholly useless - was shown to be wrong shortly after his death. The "wholly useless" theory of numbers, in which Hardy spent most of his professional life, is in fact of paramount importance these days. When you buy this book from Amazon the only reason you can be assured that naughty people won't steal your credit card number in transit is because of work done by pure mathematicians, and Hardy's own work has proven to be important in physics.

Hardy is writing for the non-mathematical layman here, so the book is very approachable, with only a minimum of elementary mathematics in it, which he provides as examples, and all of which should be accessible to anyone, including small children and Media Studies students. His intention is to provide a view into the mind of "real" mathematicians and explain the fascination that some people have with his "wholly useless" subject. And I suppose he does a decent job of that.

But in my opinion, the best bit is the foreword by C. P. Snow, which first appeared in the 1967 edition, 20 years after Hardy's death. That is a clear, touching - but critical in parts - portrait, and would be worth reading on its own. Hardy's essay is just a bonus.

Sword in the Storm, by David Gemmel

I don't normally read fantasy - too much of it is just a Tolkien pastiche, and most of the rest is badly written porn. But there are a few gems in the dunghill. This is one of them. You wouldn't think it from the awful cover art, and I don't remember why I bought it, but I'm glad I did. The broad sweep of the story is tediously conventional - a nobody Celt grows up, experiences hardships, shows exceptional bravery, becomes a great man. Yawn. What makes this stand out is the clarity of the writing, the great world-building and characters (even the incidental ones are well drawn), and that while the supernatural does exist in the story, it is mostly kept in the background and isn't used as a Deus Ex Machina - in other words, the supernatural is a small supporting element in the story, and isn't used as a Get Ouf Of Jail Free card when the author runs out of ideas.

This book is worth buying. I am at least sufficiently interested to buy the next in the series and read that too.

Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross

I don't know why, but when I first bought this and tried to read it a few years ago, it and I didn't get on at all well. I left it unfinished. Now that I've re-visited it though, I enjoyed every minute of it, with one small exception. It's great space opera, there's comedy mixed in, and if some of the characters are just a little one-dimensional - well that's what makes the comedy work. That small exception? The end. It just peters out with no real ending at all. Overall though, it's recommended.

Worlds of the Imperium, by Keith Laumer

According to the cover of this awful book, Laumer is "one of America's best-selling SF writers". If Dan Brown wasn't proof enough, this book is an excellent demonstration of how "best selling" correlates poorly with actually being any good. The writing is inept and childish, the plot paper-thin, the characters - well, there aren't any. About the only thing that's any good is that the pacing is fairly consistent and Laumer does at least manage to include a beginning, middle and end. Overall, a piss-poor effort.

Posted at 23:55 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | culture
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