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Great fantasy books

As promised, the second half of my book recommendations; fantasy works this time.

As in the last post, the cover images link to the book product pages, Kindle link below where it exists. Note: for some reason, I can’t get a direct link to Irish/EU Kindle titles for some of these books, but they do exist - from the catalogue pages I’ve linked to, where you may be told it’s not for EU consumption, click the “Kindle Edition” in the formats list and it’ll take you to another version that is available to European Kindles. God only knows, special editions or something.

The Lies of Locke Lamora (plus sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies, with another due out soon AFAIK), Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora (US Kindle) (as above, click through for EU/Ireland version)

Very nice fantasy this – the usual orphan thief/Oliver kind of thing, but very well done. Likeable main character, very readable and entertaining stuff, plenty of clever schemes and convoluted scams. “Light” fantasy setting – some interesting background quirks, but generally lighter on the magic and wizards/elves/dwarves than “sword & sorcery” fantasy like Feist or Tolkein.

The Painted Man (plus sequel The Desert Spear, more to follow), Peter V Brett

The Painted Man (Ireland Kindle)

Very readable and entertaining, likeable hero, pretty original idea (demons come out of the ground at night to terrorise/kill folks and have to be kept back by wards,  gradual decline of a largely cowed humanity as a result, young chap has enough of hiding and goes Chuck Norris on the bastards, more or less). Very readable style, got through these ones very quickly, as I recall.

The Way of Shadows (and two sequels), Brent Weeks

The Way of Shadows (US Kindle) (as above, click through for EU/Ireland version)

This trilogy is probably tending towards YA, but I found it quite readable and entertaining in any case. Pretty standard idea – battered orphan apprenticed to master assassin, becomes ultimate killer, assorted conspiracies and such. Generic-sounding, but it’s quite well done and readable, nice characterisation.

A Game of Thrones (plus sequels), George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones (Ireland Kindle) (also available in a 4-book bundle as shown in the image, just search around)

Yes, these are every bit as good as they’re hyped up to be, and on a scale and a richness that the TV series (while good) just doesn’t capture. Very well written fantasy – gritty, shades of grey abound, much plotting and politicking, plenty of action too, with very little of the elves/dwarves/pointy hat stuff of other fantasy. I just finished a re-read through the whole series up to the latest one, and would highly recommend them to anyone.

The Name of the Wind (plus sequel The Wise Man’s Fear), Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind (US Kindle) (as above, click through for EU/Ireland version)

Again, very hyped, but very very good. The story (told via a frame story) of the early days of Kvothe, a legendary hero rather highly regarded by both himself and others. Very readable stuff – likeable hero, great pacing, as compelling as they are long.

The Black Company (plus several sequels), Glen Cook

Chonicles of the Black Company (Ireland Kindle) (this is an omnibus of the first three books, good value)

Interesting fantasy this, stumbled across it through Amazon lists I think. The adventures of a company of mercenaries, as recounted by their archivist/medic. Quite shades-of-grey, pretty bleak – there isn’t much in the way of good guys here, but they’re not that bad either. Unusual writing style – very sparse, not much description, uses simple nouns as place-names (e.g. cities include Tome, Charm, Frost, Juniper, etc) and nicknames for almost all characters. Polar opposite of meandering drawn-out epics like Jordan’s, for instance. Wouldn’t have thought I’d like it, but strangely compelling stuff, finished all three of those first books.

Wizard’s First Rule (plus the first few sequels), Terry Goodkind

Wizard’s First Rule (US/Ireland Kindle)

I read this series (up to a point) a good many years ago, and recall them being very readable and entertaining. At least for the first four or five – check the Amazon reviews, but I recall it goes off the rails towards the end, turns into a thinly-veiled diatribe against communism (no, really) versus personal freedom and what not. Early books I remember fondly though, nice classic fantasy, decently written.

The Anvil of Ice (plus a few sequels), Michael Scott Rohan

(not available on Kindle, AFAIK)

Might be a bit more obscure, this, but truly great stuff. Read these as a kid, and then again a few years ago. Fantasy, set in a vaguely Norse themed world under siege by the Ice (yep, that is capitalised and they’re more than just the glaciers of an impending ice age). This one is all about the blacksmithing – that’s how the magic system works, and the main character grows to become a smith. The writing style is great – very readable, but a nice saga-like style, good language above most fantasy authors. Great imagery, generally very good books, fond memories of these ones.

Filed under review books

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Great sci-fi books

I orginally posted a few recommendations for good sci-fi and fantasy reading as a comment on someone else’s blog a while back. It turned into a decent sized list, which I figured deserved a blog post or two of its own. Add in a mate’s request for such a list, and here we are. This post is for the sci-fi, fantasy to follow shortly. 

The cover images link to the book product pages, Kindle link below where it exists. Note: for some reason, I can’t get a direct link to Irish/EU Kindle titles for some of these books, but they do exist - from the catalogue pages I’ve linked to, where you may be told it’s not for EU consumption, click the “Kindle Edition” in the formats list and it’ll take you to another version that is available to European Kindles. God only knows, special editions or something.

Altered Carbon (plus sequels Broken Angels and Woken Furies), Richard Morgan

Altered Carbon (US Kindle) (as above, click through for EU/Ireland version)

Major fan of these ones. Sci-fi action with a heavy dose of noir styling - I’m partial to that sort of thing anyway, and these are very well done indeed. Leans as much towards 40’s hard-boiled detective tales as modern space opera. Suitably violent and cynical, though the main character makes a great anti-hero. The universe is well sketched in, with transferring one’s mind from body to body a major element (that’s how interstellar travel and relative immortality work here, amongst other things). The main character is a cynical beaten down ex-military type, a former UN “Envoy” (basically death-on-legs, largely due to having their minds busted up and rebuilt in somewhat scary ways). He’s dragged in to investigate the death of a dude - by the dude himself, now installed in a fresh body. The plot spirals down into violent conspiracy from there, in typical convoluted noir style. 

Pandora’s Star (just as an example, include just about everything he’s written), Peter F Hamiliton

Pandora’s Star (US Kindle) (as above, click through for EU/Ireland version)

Fantastic space opera stuff here from a UK author, real epics. Very modern feeling sci-fi (tech-wise and such), though following classic space opera themes – ensemble casts, very large-scale action, galaxy-spanning stuff. There’s a great feel to his material that I’ve never really been able to put my finger on – a cheerful exuberance maybe, in terms of how he lays the tech and the action on thick, though still playing it straight. His worlds aren’t Star Trek utopias by any means, but there’s real positivity there in terms of the level of tech and progress, the pro-activeness of most of the characters and organisations, or something like that. Pandora’s Star is part one of a two-part sequence, and he has several other trilogies and a few standalone books. Pretty much all of them (I’ve read most of what he’s written) are fantastic stuff, highly recommended.

Midshipman’s Hope (and several sequels), David-Feintuch

(no Kindle editions, also out of print - you’ll need to order a MarketPlace one)

This is great stuff – CS Forester’s Hornblower moved into space, effectively. Takes the “sapce navy” thing to the logical extreme; full-on Royal Navy from the 1800′s kind of setup, obsession with discipline, rigid tradition, honour, rank etc. Very readable stuff.

Starship Troopers (etc etc), Robert Heinlein

Starship Troopers (US Kindle) (this one’s only available to US Kindles, for some reason)

A classic of military sci-fi, many titles in that sub-genre trace their roots to this chap. Highly recommended, especially if you want more oldschool sci-fi. In the more YA line (he wrote quite a few of those too) I read Time for the Stars many years ago as a kid, recall being well inspired by it.

The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

The Forever War (US/Ireland Kindle)

In a similar vein to Starship Troopers (it came later and is obviously inspired by it), this is another classic of military sci-fi. The author served in Vietnam, and the book obviously draws parallels with his experiences of that conflict. Time dilation is used to good effect – you go to a distant war, and come back a very long time later (relative) to find everything has changed and you don’t fit in – obvious Vietnam allegories there. Great stuff.

Old Man’s War, John Scalzi

Old Man’s War (US Kindle) (as above, click through for EU/Ireland version)

More military sci-fi here, not as famous as Haldeman and Heinlein, but quite good. Interesting premise – folks that are close to dying of old age on Earth can volunteer to be rebooted, so to speak, as young soldiers to go off and fight off-planet (which is kept cut off from Earth). Well written, interesting twist on the usual young-man-goes-to-boot-camp military sci-fi thing.

StarFist: First to Fight (plus numerous sequels), David Sherman and Dan Cragg

Starfist: School of Fire (US/Ireland Kindle)

This is straightforward military sci-fi, as are its numerous sequels in the same vein. It is written by ex-military folks, and that shows – very much a regular infantryman/Marine’s experience here. Not quite in the same league as the other stuff I’ve posted, but certainly good light reading if you want more military sci-fi.

Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game (US Kindle) (as above, click through for EU/Ireland version)

Another classic, very compelling and readable stuff.

Filed under review books

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Founders At Work

Founders At Work cover

According to my trusty Kindle, I’ve finally finished this book (it’s substantial; hard-copy is 500 pages in medium-large paperback form with a compact font), and figured I’d fire out a quick endorsement. Short version: it’s great and anyone with any interest in startups and/or the IT industry will enjoy it.

The book is straightforward; it’s a series of a few dozen interviews by Jessica Livingston (one of the founding partners at Y Combinator) with the founders of various tech companies, new and old. These interviews are of the sort you might see in Wired or Inc; a handful of brief questions with answers generally expanded on at length by the interviewee - this isn’t a quick back-and-forth Q&A. The structure of the book means that it’s very accessible - even though it’s long overall, you can just jump in and read a particular interview you’re interested in for a pick-up-and-read experience.

The interviewees are of course the real value in the book, and they really do cover the gamut. This includes the legendary Steve Wozniak talking about the early days of Apple (practically creation myth stuff for folks in this line of work), the founding of Adobe and the stories of VisiCalc and Lotus. The book being published in 2006, it also ranges to more modern giants such as Joel Spolsky on Fog Creek’s origins, Craig Newmark (, the creators of Hot or Not, PayPal, Hotmail, GMail,, Firefox, Flickr, RIM (of Blackberry fame), the TiVo system, TripAdvisor, 37Signals and more. If that list of startups doesn’t have you salivating, this book ain’t for you and neither is the tech industry.

The interviews are, almost without exception, fascinating reading, and offer great insight into the origins of some of the most famous tech companies out there, not to mention plenty of valuable advice for would-be entrepreneurs. Not sure the world needs another 10-steps-to-founding-whatever from the likes of me, but in any case, some of the key themes that come through throughout the book are persistence (many interviewees emphasise that point), adaptability (several of these companies grew as spin-offs or sidelines of previous ideas), passion and belief (another oft-repeated mantra) and the importance of good partners and good hiring.

Well, there’s really not much more to say about it. If you want to know how some of the hottest companies and products in this industry got built, either for its own sake or because you want to do some building yourself, go buy this book.

Filed under review Business tech books