2018 has been a year of some great reading. I’ve reread some old favorites and gotten exposure to some new titles too. Here are my top picks.
Feed by Mira Grant (pub. 2010)
A thriller about pair of reporters Georgia and Shaun Mason covering a presidential election set in post-apocalyptic America after a zombie outbreak. The virus is wonderfully detailed from the symptoms to the vectors to the means of containment and quarantine. The world of the virus is one in which zombies are a part of life like bad weather and LA traffic, but always a lingering fear in the back of the mind. People have enough exposure to zombies to think that another global pandemic is avoidable, but panic when smaller local outbreaks erupt, especially when they’re in the middle of it. The hunt for ratings is almost more sinister than the zombies or even the political backstabbing. We expect news organizations for live and die by the “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy, but that sort of detachment feels disturbing when its mass cannibalism by the undead.
iWoz by Steve Wozniak (pub. 2006)
Not the only nonfiction book I read in 2018, but definitely my favorite. This is a nerd’s autobiography for other nerds. It wasn’t until reading this that I understood for the first time how electronics really worked on a fundamental level, and while Wozniak periodically admits that he can get caught up in the engineering of he, he never loses sight of the human element in his career as an engineer. That humanity is a key part of the book. We think of Steve Wozniak as one of the titans of Apple. This is a look at the humble engineer with a penchant for pranks known affectionately as Woz.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (pub. 2003)
Time travel is a very difficult genre. Romance is equally difficult. Time-traveling romance ought to be impossible, but Audrey Niffenegger pulls it off beautifully in this novel about Henry De Tamble whose genetic disorder (Chrono Displacement Disorder) causes him to leap through different periods of his life, and the effect it has on his wife Claire. The mechanism of time-travel is easy to understand and we don’t get bogged down in matters of causality and grandfather paradoxes. We feel Claire’s loneliness as Henry suddenly disappears for long stretches of time, usually when he’s needed most (stress triggers his CDD). We have interesting moments of Henry meeting himself at different times, comforting himself as a toddler and giving advice to himself in high school.
The Door Into Summer by Robert Heinlein (pub. 1957)
Another time-travel story of sorts – this one surrounding suspended animation – The Door Into Summer is perhaps the least politicized work of a writer who explored the entire spectrum of political philosophy. Daniel Boone Davis is a successful engineer cheated out of his company by his wife and business partner. Forced into suspended animation, he awakens thirty years later looking for retribution, but also a chance to start his life over with renewed hope. It’s a story simple in concept, rich in characters, and leaves a positive mark on readers.
The Man with the Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove (pub. 2008)
Harry Turtledove is one of those writers who, because of his passion for history, is able to take just about any what-if concept and create an alternate scenario so rich that you believe in its authenticity. The Man With the Iron Heart is about the realization of Werwolf, a post-war guerilla campaign fought by the Germans against the Allies. War fatigue on the American home front builds overwhelming pressure on the Allies to abandon the occupation of Germany. Turtledove has written some very far-fetched alt-histories – an alien invasion in World War II, a habitable Mars, and even a comedic fantasy novel, but stories like The Man With the Iron Heart strike a deep note because readers are able to draw parallels with the War in Iraq.