The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography

By Simon Singh

Rating: 4 stars

Subtitled “The secret history of codes and code-breaking”, this is a fascinating history of codes and ciphers throughout history, from mono-alphabetic to quantum cryptography. Throughout, the writing is clear and concise, with good explanations of sometimes difficult concepts, simplifying where necessary. Definitely recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9780385495325
Publisher: Anchor
Year of publication: 1999

The Naked Sun (Robot #2)

By Isaac Asimov

Rating: 3 stars

The sequel to The Caves of Steel, this time instead of a murder of a Spacer on Earth, there’s a murder on the planet Solaria — an unheard of event — so they ask for Plainclothesman Bailey to come out to investigate, once again being teamed up with R. Daneel Olivaw.

Asimov has used these books to compare and contrast two very different societies: the huge underground cities of Earth, teeming with people who never see the outside world; and Solaria, a planet with a rigidly controlled population, where robots outnumber people 20,000 to one and where the population is spread so thinly that the idea of seeing someone (as opposed to viewing them hologramatically) is repulsive. In this, Asimov succeeds tremendously, although the actual mystery is possibly not as strong as its predecessor.

One thing that interested me here was that Asimov was already developing the notion that robots could cause long-term harm by means of a short-term good (eg not being able to discipline a child although such discipline may be better in the long term), something that he would eventually codify into the Zeroth Law of Robotics in Robots and Empire.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586010167
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Year of publication: 1956

The Picture of Dorian Gray

By Oscar Wilde

Rating: 4 stars

I very much enjoyed Wilde’s tale of a man whose portrait takes on the visage of age and sin rather than himself. My copy had a set of notes in the back (as Penguin Classics often do) which included the points where Wilde, or his editor, had made changes between the original serialised version and the compiled novel released a year or two later. It’s interesting to see how he toned down the gay overtones of the novel at that point.

The story is enjoyable, and while Gray’s nefarious exploits are rarely explicitly described, it’s probably the better for that.

Book details

ISBN: 9780375751516
Publisher: Random House: Modern Library
Year of publication: 1890

I Am Legend

By Richard Matheson

Rating: 4 stars

This is an SF novel about vampires. Robert Neville is the last man alive, yet not alone: everybody else has been turned into vampires. By day he hunts them and by night he hides in his fortified house.

This is an excellent book, dealing with the psychology of loneliness and the fight to survive. The scientific explanation of vampirism may not entirely convince, but that’s not really the point of the story. The conclusion is both inevitable and startling. Highly recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857988093
Publisher: Millenium
Year of publication: 1954


By Peter D. Smith

Rating: 4 stars

This was a short biography of Albert Einstein, of whom I’m somewhat of an admirer. I found the bits about Einstein the man particularly interesting: he found it difficult to relate to women, and he had several affairs while he was married. He also had an illegitimate daughter with the woman who would become his first wife, but all correspondence relating to this was suppressed until recently (after his son, Hans Albert, died). Although some of this has been released, much of it still remains hidden, so very little about this daughter, Lisearl, is known.

Book details

ISBN: 9781904341154
Publisher: Haus Publishing
Year of publication: 2003

Desolation Road (Desolation Road Universe, #1)

By Ian McDonald

Rating: 5 stars

This was a a great book about a town on a terraformed planet that shouldn’t exist and its many and varied inhabitants. It’s a very well-written book, full of strange characters, locations and things. And lists, lots of lists. The writer obviously had fun writing it and some of the language and descriptions are excellent.

Book details

ISBN: 9785553372484
Publisher: Spectra Books
Year of publication: 1988

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