3 book recommendations for August, 2022
Readers are sometimes surprised to learn that I've never reread any of my novels.
My energy is always focused on the next manuscript—the art is in bringing all my shattered attention to bear. Looking back, each book is a time capsule that contains something true about who I was becoming as I wrote it.
And now, books I love that you might too:
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin follows the winding journey of two friends who make computer games together. Full of reversals and insight, this is the best novel I’ve ever read about the manifold complexities of creative partnership. I’m recommending it widely and enthusiastically.
The Suitcase Clone by Robin Sloan is a delightful novella about a young Californian who steals a cutting from a legendary European vine and smuggles it back to propagate a new vineyard in Sonoma. Adventure! Intrigue! Castles! Mystery! Microorganisms!
Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins is a batshit crazy epic that reads like an acid trip of uncommon strength, scope, and clarity. It’s a lot—an ancient king who learns the secrets of immortality, Seattle waitresses seducing each other, whale masks, chemistry experiments, Greek gods, Mardi Gras, counterintuitive wisdom, sex, geniuses, hucksters, and nymphs—and it’s a lot of fun. Robbins is a master of line-level writing: his prose vibrates with energy and imagination.
Bonus recommendation: Over in Every, I wrote about how writing is more than a method for capturing ideas, it's a way of exploring them. When you write down an idea, the results may surprise you, which is surprising in itself.
Things worth sharing:
Over in the Boston Globe , I wrote about the beauty of playing the long game: “I love projects with multi-decade timelines. They defy the limiting logic of quarterly earnings, KPIs, conversion rates, and all the other metrics that blind us even as they bind us to the status quo in a society where data is so often used as an excuse instead of a guiding light. Long-term projects require a different way of thinking, the shrugging off of constraints embedded in so many human incentive systems.”
Eye candy from a recent trip to Iceland, whose landscape, art, and mythology inspired Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings. They were going to shoot the movies there, but the weather was too unstable.
As you may have noticed, I read lots of books, articles, essays, blog posts, etc. One consistently useful quality filter is to seek out stories of lasting value, stories that will be worth reading years into the future. This rules out 99% of breaking news. Recency is dramatically overvalued.
If you’re curious about technologies that actually changed the world—as opposed to those that loudly claim to—read up on the Haber–Bosch process for fixing nitrogen. The ammonia it produces is used to feed half of humanity (yes, 50% of us!) every day.
Somebody Write This! has the most creative format of any podcast I've guested on: The hosts and I started with a computer generated prompt and then extrapolated it into a full story over the course of the episode. It felt like sitting in a writers room breaking a script.
Deducing conclusions from existing data generates decreasing marginal returns to learning. A better way to learn is to make your best guess about what’s really going on and what should be done about it, act on the guess, use the results to update the guess, and repeat.
Suresh Dinakaran interviewed me about writing fiction that extrapolates the power and consequences of technology, consulting for technology founders and investors, and the feedback loop connecting science fiction and science fact.
Johnny Mnemonic has 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it got a lot right in 1995: FaceTime, tent cities, global pandemic, neural nets, biohackers, violent Christian fundamentalists, neural nets, corporate intrigue over vaccine IP, Neuralink, info wars, and Oculus.
Two subscribers to this humble newsletter recently launched new books: Brian Merchant, founder of Terraform, published an eponymous collection of speculative fiction stories, and Andrew Liptak, author of Transfer Orbit, published a history of cosplay.
From my conversation with Blake Crouch about writing Upgrade: “Writing is fucking hard. It doesn’t get easier. Each book demands to be written in its own way, on its timeline. Even after 10 or 12 books, I still feel like a novice going into a new idea. And I have to be at peace with that. It’s supposed to be scary or you aren’t stretching.”
Thanks for reading. We all find our next favorite book because someone we trust recommends it. So when you fall in love with a story, tell your friends. Culture is a collective project in which we all have a stake and a voice.
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Eliot Peper is the author of Reap3r, Veil, Breach, Borderless, Bandwidth, Neon Fever Dream, Cumulus, Exit Strategy, Power Play, and Version 1.0. He publishes a blog, consults on special projects, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.
“The reigning king of speculative thrillers.”
-Brian Merchant, founder of Terraform, on Reap3r