Cataloging The World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age, by Alex Wright

The huge mass of published material grows by the day, by the hour, in amounts that are disconcerting and sometimes maddening. Like water falling from the sky, it can either cause flooding or beneficial irrigation

I loved this book!

Notes while reading:

  • “Biblion” as a unit of writing (and knowledge).
  • Embodied Cognition

Singlularity Sky, by Charlie Stross

Had I really not read this? Maybe and forgot. Such strong optimism for info maximalism and info-structures. Characters and writing meh; mostly interesting for the taste of period (cyber)idiology.

Overall, standard 90s singularity/space-opera genre fare.

Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch (2016)

Simple book, pretty well executed. Read like a film script, or a TV episode, but with more twists. I liked the last quarter; much of the early exposition was very slow and predictable. Good balance of fine details while glossing over some hard physics which could have been an over-reach.

Oranges, by John McPhee

Ate so many oranges after reading this. Cara Caras are great, but had some incredibly juicy flavorful oranges with Lucy at the kitchen table that now are driving me mad that I can’t remember the type. Changed my standards a lot: many navels are great, many other easy-to-peel don’t actually have much flavor.

Orangeries! Florida!

I like the small bit of 4th wall that McPhee breaks.

The World of Edena, by Moebius

Always such a feeling of boundless creative universe with Moebius; could just go on forever. Feels dated in a sometimes uncomfortable way (lots of naked ladies), but also fresh and humanist.

The City and The City, by China Meville

For whatever reason I was skeptical going in… too popular? Too heavy-handed a gimick? But liked it immediately, both the structure and the characters/exposition. Not super happy with the resolution of the mystery, but very happy with how the character arcs ended.

Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin (2015-2017)

Oof, I binge-read this trilogy (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky in one week, which wasn’t particularly healthy, and wasn’t mindful or thoughtful.

The books were tightly written and well paced. I mostly liked the characters, but the “world building” and exposition felt like the real show here. The mix of magical realism and sci-fi worked surprisingly well to me, though I think I prefered the fuzzy-but-hard science of Anathem (by N. Stephenson) more. Surprised how fascinated in the “orogenes” power/curse I was.

Overall well written and different. During and after I keep thinking of this as young-adult or genre entertainment reading; there’s more to it than that, but also less than more traditional adult literature.

Energy by Richard Rhodes (201?)

After “Making of the Atomic Bomb”, a bit of a narrative disapointment, though it is just a different sort of book. Felt like a series of snapshots, none deep enough to feel like I really understood the course and pressures that lead to success of different energy technologies.

An over-arching theme was that ideas were had well before acceptance; it was often a combination of small technical polish and external economic or political changes that led to a new source being adopted.

Narrative of coal, steam engine, and trains being intertwined was interesting: coal nominally being used as a heating source, but required engines for economical mining and transport; the engines themselves requiring cheap coal to be worth developing. And along the way land-use regulation being a blocker.

Surprising to hear how much the negative health impacts of fossil fuels were known from the begining, and how bad the (local) environmental impacts were. The global impact gets so much more attention today. The period belief from the start that oil and coal reserves would run out. How poor Saudi Arabia was, and how narrowly the kingdom survived by oil exploration taking off at just the right moment.

Part of what makes Niagra such a great power location is that the lake it drains is a huge buffer of stored water (thus energy), and the flow rate can be controlled at will (no flooding). More than a year of reserve water at full full (including the fact that water level would be decreasing).

Didn’t know that religious minorities on Nantucket partially moved back to Europe at some point to continue to pursue whaling.

Roadside Picnic

Oh, I really loved this. Very Russian. Explains “Stalker” the same way “2001: A Space Odessy” makes sense if you read the script/narration.

The informal/intimate stalkers against the official/institutional scientists were so spot-on. This pattern doesn’t always hold in sci/tech world, but it is pretty common.

Devil and the White City by Eric Larson

Decent, easy flight reading. Focus on the serial killer thread is of course only on the principle actors, but in the case of the fair, the focus on a handful of leaders and planners was less compelling.

The scale of the Fair as a singular and super-human event really comes through. Will this sort of economic activity and make-work become more popular during late capitalism? Or post-scarcity? I continue to be perplexed why the scale of architecture gets less ambitious as society becomes more technically powerful; was it really dependent on economic inequality and exploitation of labor? Don’t we have that again today?

The background of economic recession, homelessness, and desparation against the robber barons funding and directing the World’s Faire seemed like the real story and didn’t get much coverage in depth.

Combined with “Cadillac Desert”, paints a story of agricultural development of the American mid-west as an economic and policy tragedy of the same incompetence as Soviet/Mao-ist economic planning, though of course far less of a tragedy in the end as most were able to survive and freely relocated.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Decent, not spectacular. Most of the individual story threads would not have stood well on their own. The tree protectors were the most compelling to me: the aimless artist with a family flipbook of great tree growth, and the near-death college dropout. The various endings are pretty dramatic.

Had echos of “The Wizard and the Prophet”.


Easy read; very basic introduction to the person and this period in history. Read because even this much I did not know!