Books I read in 2022
Books and stories I read in 2022 and their short reviews.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Buddy action-comedy in space: Back-of-the-napkin science, DIY engineering, OSHA violations, and communication issues. Thoroughly enjoyable and very much in the spirit of The Martian. Without too many spoilers, humanity is facing a rather unusual space-borne disaster, and main character has to somehow figure it out after waking up from stasis in the middle of nowhere.
You're Paid What You're Worth by Jake Rosenfeld
A thorough looks at how companies (and industries) set salaries and how utterly nonsensical it gets at the time. The key point is that it's not the individual worker's productivity, industry demand, or cost-of-worker-replacement that drive salaries, but other emergent properties.
The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski
- Blood of Elves
- Time of Contempt
- Baptism of Fire
- Tower of the Swallow
- Lady of the Lake
The series needs no introduction, but I read the books at the worst time. (Spoilers ahead) I read Time of Contempt, about Nilfgaard's planned attack on the Northern Kingdoms in February, right before Russia invaded Ukraine. The part with Ciri being kidnapped by elves to bear a child for them was right around the repeal of Roe vs Wade. And the ending with a city-wide rebellion is rather relevant too. Needless to say, this is all a bit uncanny.
The Waste-Free World by Ron Gonen
Exploration of multiple scenarios on how to reduce or eliminate waste from the economy. Some examples were very reasonable (reusable containers, better farming methods, fabrics from food waste), others did not sound very environmentally safe to me (shredding old electronics as a recycling method).
Stiff by Mary Roach
Lots of interesting facts and stories about what happens to bodies after death, as well as related ethical and religious issues. Like Mary Roach's other books, it is very well written and engaging.
Corruptible by Brian Klaas
The book explores corruption, what drives it and some particular historical accounts. Honestly, I don't remember much, but it was interesting, and the examples were solid.
The Book of OWA: For Tomorrow, a Better Tomorrow by Daniel Izadnegahdar
My friend published this book on [popular online store] and sent me a physical copy. If the title sounds like it's about a cult, it's because it is. OWA is a utopian post-scarcity society living on an artificial planet 60,000 years in the future, and they solved most of the problems of the modern world. What this utopia really turns out to be is this: all humans are identical clones, artificially grown to perform a specific job, educated only enough to performs that job, forced to live exactly 100 years, have zero privacy, adhere to a dogmatic set of rules, and get reprogrammed for any transgressions, yet they are always happy. And this is honestly described as utopia, without a hint of satire. Anyway, this is a dollar-store version of Brave New World with no self-awareness, no plot, very many unaswered questions, lots and lots of internal contradictions, unintentionally ignorant and thus hilarious statements, bad grammar, and quite a lot of cringe. I did get a chuckle out of a few jabs at religion though, and the illustrations are done in great detail.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Great examples of how the famous and the powerful became such because they were in the right place at the right time, and not simply because they were somehow more skilled or intelligent.
Junk DNA by Nessa Carey
Interesting, well-researched information about what is called "junk" DNA, and the various important roles it plays in expressing human genes, but a bit too textbook-like at times.
The Year's Best Science Fiction (28th annual collection, 2011)
- The Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String by Lavie Tidhar
- Libertarian Russia by Michael Swanwick
- Sleeping Dogs by Joe Haldeman
- Chicken Little by Cory Doctorow
- Again and Again and Again by Rachel Swirsky
- Elegy for a Young Elk by Hannu Rajaniemi
- My Father's Singularity by Brenda Cooper
- The Starship Mechanic by Jay Lake and Ken Scholes
- The Sleepover by Alastair Reynolds
Most of these were okay, but ones that stood out are: Chicken Little is a dystopian story about a person-corporation that is also a sovereign state, attempting to alter human perception. The Sleepover is a fantastic story about intelligences that are beyond our physical reality.
Recursion by Blake Crouch
Incidents of people experiencing false memories lead back to experiments that can alter reality itself. And, of course, many people and governments are trying to use it to their advantage. The plot had some twists, was well-paced, and very enjoyable. What I thought was interesting is that just like Dark Matter, it is the human perception that plays the key role in the technology.
The Universe Within by Neil Shubin
Similar to Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish, but this book relates more global processes, such as planet formation, geology, and climate to the evolution and adaptations of discovered fossils.
Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson
Is this science fiction, adventure, or a history book? The answer is yes. It is probably the most epic story I read this year, involving climate, politics, survival, madness, and very vivid descriptions of beautiful and hostile Antarctic environments. It follows a politician from DC, an experienced mountain guide, and an average no-name guy, who find themselves in Antarctica in a middle of a a climate crisis, political turmoil, and eco-terrorist activity.
Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid by Thor Hanson
Very well-written and captivating stories exploring various plants and animals adapting to their environments in the age of global climate change, whether it's lizards being better at surviving hurricanes, forests migrating (!), or species living in local climate anomalies.
The Circle by Dave Eggers
Ridiculous and over-the-top satire of the Silicon Valley tech world, complete with a protagonist that doesn't just drink the corporate kool-aid, she chugs it. To be honest, at first, I could not stand how clueless the main character was, but as my wife pointed out, "that is exactly how people in her position would be" (i.e. a college dropout with no marketable skills, hired into a tech company via nepotism), and it all made sense. Did not make it any less terrifying though.
Memorable quote: "First of all, I know it's all people like you. And that's what's so scary. Individually you don't know what you're doing collectively."
The Happiness Industry by William Davies
I don't remember much from this book to be honest, I just remember it was not at all what I expected.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
A good horror story set in Mexico, about an English family of mine-owners, their shady history, and a plot against the main character, a wealthy socialite from Mexico City. The setup and the first half of the book is somewhat slow, but then the action picks up, and there are plenty of unsettling episodes, hallucinations, gaslighting, and, of course, a creepy old man with very bad ideas.
The Every by Dave Eggers
Sequel to the Circle, with more satire of the Silicon Valley "disruptions". With main character working at several departments of The Every, this book could have been several short stories. While The Circle used "privacy is theft" philosophy, The Every leans heavily into elitism and greenwashing, with an attitude that only they can solve the impending climate crisis.
Eating Animals By Safran Foer
If you want to be utterly disappointed in humanity, frightened of factory farms, and/or become a vegan, read this book. It is horrifying what animal farms have become over the last century and how they get away with most of their violent, cruel, and polluting practices due to loosely written laws.