Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive

By Bruce Schneier

Rating: 5 stars

Bruce Schneier started life as a security expert but his interests have been expanding over time, and this book is really a general sociology of trust, and what enables large-scale societies to exist, never mind to thrive. He talks about the four different societal pressures that can be brought to bear against those thinking about “defecting” from a group: moral, reputational, institutional and security. He discusses each of these in detail and then looks at larger scale societies and how these pressures can fail against corporations and other institutions.

The book is very easy to read and Schneier lays out his case clearly and compellingly. As he says in the introduction, this isn’t a comprehensive work, it’s a starting point. The notes and references are extensive so there’s lots more reading that can be done around the subject. But if you’re looking for a good starting place on how groups enable and maintain trust, and the mechanisms by which that trust can fail, you could do much worse than starting here.

Book details

ISBN: 9781118143308
Publisher: Wiley
Year of publication: 2012

The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit And Other Plays

By Ray Bradbury

Rating: 3 stars

This is a small collection of three short one-act plays that Bradbury wrote in the 1970s that I was completely unaware of, although in saying that, I recognise both the title play (The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit) and one other (The Veldt) as short stories. I don’t know if they started off as plays and were converted, or the other way around but both still work very well as plays. I’m not so experienced at reading plays but it does feel like there’s dialogue but not much in the way of stage direction.

The title play follows six young Latino immigrant workers who pool their resources and buy a single white suit that they share out amongst themselves. It’s about friendship and poverty and what can be learned through sharing and is a sweet little play. The Veldt is an altogether darker affair. It has themes of parental affection, misuse of technology and the tension between work and family life. The final play, To the Chicago Abyss has elements of Fahrenheit 451, although from a different perspective.

I would love to see these performed, just to see how they’d work on stage, rather than on the page, especially the technological magic of The Veldt. Even without that, though, they’re still very enjoyable to read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780553115826
Publisher: Bantam
Year of publication: 1972

Anansi Boys

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 3 stars

When Fat Charlie Nancy’s father dies, he finds out that his father was a god and that he had a brother he didn’t know about. And that makes his world much more interesting, and much more dangerous.

This is a much more whimsical book than American Gods, with whom it shares a universe and one character (Mr Nancy/Anansi, Charlie’s father, whose death kicks off events). Whereas that was deep and brimming with mythology, this feels much lighter, more like a good old-fashioned story without as much going on underneath. There was a lot of humour in it, of a style that reminded me a lot of Good Omens, but without the lightness of touch ( Terry Pratchett’s influence?) that made that book such a joy to read. It sounds like I’m being negative, but it’s just that I expect great things of Gaiman and this is, IMO, just good. Fat Charlie is a decent enough character and I really felt for him when the whirlwind of his brother, Spider, came into his life. For a while, it seemed like it would just be Spider tormenting Charlie, but the tone shifts later in the book, as the events driving things start to come to the fore.

The focus here is on African folklore, in the way that it was Norse mythology that drove American Gods and while this is less familiar to me than the latter, Gaiman handles it well enough that what you need to know is explained in the text, so you don’t feel like you’re floundering. That the story is reasonably lightweight helps in this regard too.

So this is an entertaining read in an unfamiliar (to me) mythology and definitely lighter than some of Gaiman’s other work. Worth a read, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of my pile.

Book details

ISBN: 9780060515195
Publisher: HarperCollins HarperTorch
Year of publication: 2005

American Gods (American Gods, #1)

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

A few days before he’s let out of jail, Shadow’s wife Laura dies in a car crash. Numbly, he tries to return home and get on with his life, but he meets a stranger on the journey, who offers him a job. With nothing to stay for, he accepts, and begins a journey through the heart of America, and into the oncoming storm.

This is possibly the most ‘Neil Gaiman-y’ of Nail Gaiman’s books. It’s about mythology, belief, gods and monsters, what it means to be human, and more. Shadow is a sympathetic protagonist, although he can be passive at times. He accepts the world of mythology and gods he’s been thrown into with barely a quizzical eyebrow, but he still has agency when it matters and his actions drive the plot forward.

The writing is very pleasurable to read as well. I’ve always been a fan of that, and while it’s no Ray Bradbury in my book, I do enjoy the cadence of Gaiman’s prose and his choice of words is evocative.

If you’re new to Gaiman’s work, this is probably a good place to start into his body of work. It’s very typical of his work and rich enough that you’ll know after you’re finished it whether to read any more of his work, without needing the commitment of something like the Sandman series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780747263746
Publisher: Headline Review
Year of publication: 2001

The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1: Sex, the Future, & Chocolate Chip Cookies

By Karen Joy Fowler

Rating: 3 stars

This anthology brings together short fiction that was nominated for, and some that won, the James Tiptree Award for “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender”. As well as that, there are a number of essays both relating to the award itself and the wider genre. There were a number of stories here that I enjoyed a lot, and some less so.

Looking Through Lace, by Ruth Nestvold, was probably my favourite story in the collection. This is about a young xenolinguist trying to understand the complexities of an alien language while also having to overcome the prejudices of her superior. This one reminded me of some of Ursula K. Le Guin’s anthropological stories and I liked the characterisation and deft worldbuilding.

I also enjoyed both the retellings of The Snow Queen (itself also included in the collection) preferring the modern Travels with the Snow Queen over the Japanese-set The Lady of the Ice Garden.

I was less keen on The Catgirl Manifesto: An Introduction by Richard Calder. This was written as an academic-style introduction to a fictional work that seemed to have a few layers of fiction to it. Perhaps I would get more out of it on a second reading, but as it stood I found it difficult to follow and somewhat incoherent.

So a good collection if you’re interested in exploring gender or just want some challenging SF.

Book details

ISBN: 9781892391193
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Year of publication: 2004

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