- One Man and his Bike (Mike Carter): a semi-accidental read. I grabbed this off the pile of shame as emergency reading for a camping weekend away when somebody else stole the Kindle... and then left the Kindle on charge when we went out the door. A Guardian journalist gets fed up with the rat-race and goes off round Britain on his bike - the book itself didn't really grab me, mostly being a series of unconnected ancedotes, with only a couple of threads tying the whole thing together, but it did vaguely make me what to do some sort of cycle tour (although nothing like 5000 miles, I should be very clear). Of course, 90 minutes after finishing the book, I came off my bike so maybe that's not such a good idea...
- The Border (Robert McCammon): started off promisingly as a piece of post-apocalyptic fiction: Earth is being used as a battleground between two all-powerful alien races, and humanity is squeezing out an existence where it can. It started OK, but went downhill in about Chapter 6, continued through a whole sequence of "with one bound Jack was free" moments, jumped the shark completely when the anti-hero suddenly saves the day and then ends on perhaps the second most ridiculous deus ex machina I've read (The Naked God still "wins" on that front). Not recommended!
- Infinity Engine (Neal Asher): while I really liked Dark Intelligence, the first book in the Transformation trilogy, I wasn't nearly so taken with War Factory in which everyone seemed to be manipulated by You-Know-Who-If-You've-Read-The-Book, so wasn't sure what was going to happen here. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise in that while everyone was still being manipulated by You-Know-Who, they were now all very much aware they were being manipulated. And everything ends with a nice showdown which ends mostly as you'd expect, but certainly with a kick in the tail.
- Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler): more post-apocalyptic fiction, although not a deliberate choice - a semi-random choice from the unread pile on the Kindle. In 2025, the US is falling apart as the effects of climate change hit hard. As a young girl's community falls apart, she sees a better future and prepares and plans how to make that happen. So much better on that front than The Border, where everything seemed to happen despite the actions of the protagonists, rather than because of it. There's quite a lot of words here for not that much happening, but enough to make me read the next one sometime.
- Burn (James Patrick Kelly): sci-fi novella set on a deliberately planned planet where the residents accept a simple life - apart from the few that don't. Felt like a bit of a mismatch for the novella format - it would have been stronger either chopped down to a short story focusing on the one main thread, or as a full length novel where the secondary themes could have been delved into a little deeper. Entertaining enough, but just a little unsatisfying.
- Revelation Space (Alistair Reynolds): usual Reynolds hard sci-fi, not that I think that's a bad thing. That said, probably my least favourite of the Revelation Space trilogy - it lacks the grand scale of the later books, and is a bit deus ex machina at the end.
- Sunshine (Robin McKinley): while I loved the world this was set in, I couldn't really relate to the characters and the plot was just a bit too predictable. Bit of a struggle to get through, but I'd potentially read something else set in the same world.
- Beyond the Aquila Rift (Alistair Reynolds, short story collection): there wasn't a deliberate plan for a Reynolds-fest; this just happened to be at the library when I was there with the kids. The usual mix of stuff you get in a short story collection - three favourites were "Weather" (what is a Conjoiner engine, anyway?), "Beyond the Aquila Rift" (ancient jumpgate technology) and "Trauma Pod" (a soldier is saved by an intelligent medic-bot. Then stuff happens...).
However, this year we were off on holiday again in "hand baggage only" mode so once again the SLR stayed at home. We looked at options for replacing the IXUS 160 and it came down to spending perhaps £300 on a newer better camera... or picking up an IXUS 70 on eBay for £30. So the latter is what we did and off on holiday we went.
This does let me finally actually do that camera shoot out and work out which camera actually gives better pictures. Both images are taken at ~35mm, and I've rescaled the IXUS 160's image to the 7 MP of the IXUS 70. Anyway, here's the IXUS 70 image (open in a new tab for full size):
(the pixelated bit in the bottom left corner is just where my daughter crept into the frame) and here's the IXUS 160:
For a bit of fun, I also took the same shot with the other photographic devices I had handy:
- My Canon 550D SLR. Clearly better than the compact camera photos, but then it should be!
- My Motorola Moto G (2013) phone: the Moto G is a great phone in a lot of ways, but its camera is famously bad. This shows that - although it is the only one of the non-SLR options to maintain any detail in the sky.
- Karen's Amazon Fire HD 7. Even ignoring the finger over the lens ;-), this is awful. I didn't think I'd manage to find a worse camera than my phone, but here's one.
- From Techie to Boss (Scott Cromar): a guide for how to transition from being a techie in the trenches to team lead / project manager / people manager. All a bit too "management from on high" (aka waterfall) for my tastes, particularly the project management bits; the words "change control board" generally want to make me run as far and as fast from a project as possible.
- The Protos Mandate (Nick Kanas): part of Springer's "Scientific Novel" series, and frankly a perfect example of why you shouldn't let scientists pretend to be authors. Probably best summed up by the author themselves in the "Science behind the Fiction" section after the story itself: "the [story reflects] traditional American values [...] with good guys and bad guys and relatively formulaic plot lines." - although I'd probably change "relatively formulaic" to "incredibly predictable".
- Building Great Software Engineering Teams (Joshua Tyler): a better guide to being a good software leader. Very startup focused, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn't agree with everything in here (should a founder at a ~100 person startup still be doing the initial CV screening - probably not) but the book's a good place to start if you're looking at being a software leader, either as a manager, a technical leader or a startup founder type role.
- The Long War (Terry Pratchett / Stephen Baxter): the second of the Long Earth series. I very much liked The Long Earth, and this started promisingly with a couple of interesting major plot threads (along with a couple of minor ones as well). The major threads continued to develop... but then all just ended rather suddenly, followed by a very telegraphed hook for the next book. Enough interesting stuff going on for me to read the next one though.
- Finding a Million-Star Hotel (Bob Mizon): a guide to getting to see the Milky Way and the rest of the stars, an increasingly difficult problem in this day and age. Generally pretty good, but a lot of filler (which I skipped), particularly the list of "dark sky places" in the UK and the US and the details of every solar eclipse until 2027. Had the best line of any book this holiday: "Most astronomers are very sane, tolerant people."
- Horus Rising (Dan Abnett): the first of novels giving the backstory to Games Workshop's Warhammer 40K universe. Fairly standard military sci-fi; I suspect readers will either know the rough outline of the Horus Heresy (in which case the plot won't be too surprising) or won't be interested in it, in which case I suspect the book won't hold their attention for too long. Definitely worth the $0.20 if you consider I got five of the Horus Heresy novels for $1 in a Humble Bundle deal, and probably even worth the $1 if I don't read any of the rest of them.
- Down and Out in Purgatory (Tim Powers): a quick novella about a guy who wants revenge on his love rival, even though said rival is now dead. A bit predicatable, but only an hour or so to read so not the end of world.