Recommend A Book

Prompt: If you could recommend one book, which one would it be?

Not the most well-formed sentence of a prompt, but I can work with that. I’m also going to add a rule of “I can’t use any of the books from my what I’m reading or favorite books lists.”

I’ll cheat a little bit, though, because once you remove my favorite authors, as I did by blocking out everything from my ‘favorite books’ list, there’s not a whole lot left. So I’m going to use one of the bits of ‘minutia’ of that list, and say that the one book I’d recommend to everyone is Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age.1

Diamond Age is a rather sprawling book, but it tackles a lot of topics that I find utterly fascinating.2 There’s a lot of nanotechnology, which is used to touch on the cosmetic and medical uses that become possible, including some of the issues of ethics that show up when you’ve got the tech to rewrite someone’s brain. There’s a well-thought-out conceptualization of the sort of changes in society that the advent of atomic-level manipulation3 would bring. Hell, there’s even a good discussion of parenting, with special consideration for parenting through a digital remove, something that’s becoming more and more relevant in our increasingly connected world.

In short, Diamond Age is a fascinating read, and that’s what I’d recommend to everyone to read. Of course, Stephenson being who he is, that isn’t the only book of his that I’d recommend: Snow Crash4 is another phenomenal piece of work. I’ve read both Snow Crash and Neuromancer, which are widely considered to be the two pieces of cyberpunk literature, and I personally enjoyed Snow Crash a lot more. Sure, Neuromancer had a space station and I’m always a fan of space stations, but the idioms involved felt a little bit dated to me. Snow Crash, despite being written before Tron was released, still feels modern. And who doesn’t love a good parody of capitalism? Check it out, it’s pretty great.

Once more, I’ll make an attempt to bait reader interaction: got any books that I should really read? Hit up the comments and let me know.

  1. This isn’t an Amazon Affiliate link, which is the normal practice for people blogging with links to Amazon, but instead an AmazonSmile link. Instead of the referral percentage going to me, it’ll go to a charity of your choice. 
  2. Plus it’s just badass; how many books can you accurately describe with the phrase “post-scarcity neo-Victorianist” with no exaggeration? Answer: not enough
  3. By means of what is essentially a really fancy 3D printer 
  4. AmazonSmile link again. You might also notice that I’m directly linking to the Kindle books, because saving paper is good for the environment and stuff. 

My Favorite Books

I’m dropping this bit of introduction in at the start to explain a bit: I wrote this post about a week ago, and I’m posting it now because a) I was too ill to do anything yesterday, and b) Terry Pratchett, mentioned below, passed away on Thursday. He was an amazing writer, and a huge inspiration to me and millions of others. I was consciously aware of the fact that he was dying – his decline due to Alzheimer’s Disease is a matter of public record – and I’d even read his last book, Raising Steam, which was almost painful to read. It was an amazing book, capturing that sense of building something that made me love The Truth so much, and it managed to include just about every character he’d ever written – a tall order in a series that covered more than 50 books and pieces of spin-off media. And it hurt so much because it was so clearly a goodbye. He knew he wasn’t long for this world, and he was able to say goodbye in such a beautiful way. So I’m dedicating this post to Sir Terry Pratchett: you were a phenomenal man, and you will never be forgotten.

Continuing my trend of ‘favorite [category of media]’ posts, I’m gonna talk about some of my favorite books today! (I did that post about what I’m reading a little while ago, but this is more about the stuff that I’ll go back to time and time again.)

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Easily my favorite book, this is (quoting the cover) a tour de force of a book, written as a response to her own “Tough Guide to Fantasyland,” which mocked the stereotypical fantasy novel. Dark Lord is set in one of those stereotypical fantasy novel, but from the other perspective: the ‘hero’ of the novel is actually a tourist, paying an exorbitant amount of money to an exploitative tour agency in order to go on an adventure in another world with magic and monsters. The book ignores those ‘heroes’ and instead follows the ‘dark lord,’ someone who was forced to take up the role to make the tourists experience a proper ‘adventure.’ In true DWJ style, the book starts off slow, but by the time you hit the midpoint of the novel, you realize that you’re physically incapable of putting the book down.

High Wizardry by Diane Duane

I had to think about which of Diane Duane’s books I wanted to mention – Omnitopia: Dawn was a strong contender, but I can still remember where I was when I got So You Want To Be A Wizard, the first book in her Young Wizards series (which includes High Wizardry). The series is one of my favorite of all time, and while I’m not entirely sure if the chronology matches up, I often attribute my wanting to be a programmer with the influence that the Young Wizards series had on my life. The idea that magic wasn’t some sort of inherent trait, but just the ability to convince the world to do what you wanted, combined with the concept that it was just a matter of saying a few words… Well, it got even better when, in High Wizardry, the concept of a computer as an instrument of magic was explored in a beautiful way that, aside from the very specific elements of the computer in question, still feels like science fiction.1

The Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce

I tried, I really tried, but I couldn’t pick just one. Honestly, her other major set of works, the Tortall series, is also amazing, and should probably show up as another contender on here, but I had to put the Circle first because it’s what I read first. It’s a beautiful exploration of a unique system of magic with characters that I fall in love with all over again every time I read the books.2 Seriously, go read them, I cannot recommend them enough. And I’m still hoping for a movie series, it would be perfect.

The Truth by Terry Pratchett

Another one where it was hard to pick from a massive series, The Truth follows the invention and growth of the newspaper and newspaper industry in Ankh-Morpork, the ‘big wahooni’ of the Discworld. I’ve read just about3 every book Sir Pratchett4 wrote,5 and I’ve loved very nearly all of them. But it’s this one that stood out the most to me – the sense of something being built, plus the characteristic silliness6 and just a hint of hair-raising horror make it my favorite out of his works.

Honorable Mention

I’ve also got to throw a plug for David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster in here, just because that was the other book that was a big influence on my footnote usage. Another one I read in high school english, Cloud Atlas, goes in here, because of how I reacted when I read the last couple pages of Letters from Zedelgheim. No spoilers, but I’ll just say that I was blissfully oblivious to all of the subtext going on, and when I figured it out on the second-to-last page I dropped the book and sat in silence for a while, and was rather inconsolable for the next couple days. I’ll also drop a plug for Robert Sawyer’s WWW trilogy, which has had a lot of influence on my ideas about artificial intelligence, and another for Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, which is why I’m so hopeful about the future of 3D printing. A mention for Iain Banks’ Culture series, a beautiful, sprawling set of space operas which I adore. Finally, a shoutout to Patricia C. Wrede, who wrote both the Enchanted Forest series and the Frontier Magic series, both of which I would be happy to read another thousand times.

I read a lot, folks. Hit up those comments – have you read any of these books? And what are your favorites? I’m always looking for more to read!

  1. That is to say, it doesn’t feel out of date, at all. A ‘new millenium edition’ was recently released, which made it work out even better, but it honestly had aged beautifully before that. 
  2. I’m being deliberately vague about which series I’m talking about because, honestly, it’s true of both. 
  3. but not quite 
  4. He was knighted for his writing. Yes, he was that good. 
  5. I’m adding this footnote in as part of my editing sweep – I’ll admit to having had to blink back tears as I changed this to the past tense. 
  6. And footnotes, which clearly influenced me a lot.