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Best and Worst Books of 2003? 719

Posted by simoniker
from the printed-word-is-the-bird dept.
Thousandstars writes "I saw the article on the best and worst movies of 2003, and, being a literature geek, I thought it would also be appropriate to ask for the best and worst books of 2003. In fiction, Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver is toward the top of my best list. How about everyone else?"
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Best and Worst Books of 2003?

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  • by Guano_Jim (157555) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:00PM (#7789023)
    I thought the Lord of the Rings series was a great set of books. I can't wait for someone to make a movie out of it.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:38PM (#7789453)
      It took me a long time to truly understand the Lord of the Rings; here's a FAQ for those who are new to the story.

      Q: Is LoTR really based on Christian Mythology?

      A: Yes. Tolkien wanted to demonstrate that even the mentally and physically challenged were capable of success and that therefore we should love everyone, regardless of their defects.

      Q: So who represents the mentally and physically challenged?

      A: Well obviously the hobbits are the physically challenged ones here, but the central mentally challenged figure is Gandalf, responsible for the most horrible attack plan in literature.

      Q: What's so horrible about a poorly armed team of two hobbits infiltrating Mordor?

      A: Well, basically it ignores the fundamental strengths of the forces of light. Anyone who's played C&C or Warcraft knows that if you have an advantage in air units, you have to use it. Remember that elves can ride eagles, and that elven archers are incredibly potent - early on, Gimli dismounts a Nazgul with a single shot! With about a thousand eagles (given elven archers on each one), the forces of good would have matched up pretty well in the air against Mordor's air units: all nine of them. While the leader of the Nazgul cannot be killed by any living man, this does not prevent a team of twenty eagles from tearing him to little shreds, especially if Gandalf rode along for help. So basically an air battle would have been brief unmitigated slaughter of the Nazgul as about a thousand eagle-mounted elves blew them out of the sky in a hail of arrows.

      Q: But I thought that there was some other book that said that the eagles wouldn't help?

      A: We're not talking about some other stupid book here, we're talking about the Lord of the Rings. And in this book, the eagles most definitely help out, first by flying Gandalf off the tower and secondly by pitching into the Final Battle in full force, attacking ground units (stupid!) at great risk to themselves. So obviously they would have been content to take part in a brief airborne slaughter of the Nazgul.

      Q: Ok so you defeat all Mordor's air units... then what?

      A: Well with air superiority, you command the skies. Which means that you can fly right over Mount Doom and drop anything you want right in there... like a ring. Mordor only had nine airborne units, and with them out of the way Mordor has absolutely no way to prevent anyone from flying anywhere.

      Q: But the ring would corrupt the eagles trying to drop the ring in, silly.

      A: Actually, the ring can only corrupt those who touch it or those in the nearby area. This is a trivial mechanism to defeat. The first step is permanently bind the ring to a weak and helpless creature, like a rat. Second step is of course to put the rat on a long rope, so that the creature holding the rope is out of the sway of the ring. Then the eagle carrying the rope, having total air superiority, flies over Mount Doom and drops the rat in the volcano. An utterly trivial victory.

      Q: Ok, so why the elaborately stupid attack plan? Why send the physical rejects as the only hope of mankind?

      A: The lesson is that, though they succeed at great cost and great risk, they are still capable of success. This, of course, was the lesson of the Holocaust - that we should never feel so superior to the weak or inferior that we decide they have no place. Even idiot tacticians like Gandalf and weak, pathetic creatures like Hobbits can add some value here & there.

      Q: Wait a minute. I just saw the movie, and there's this scene where they're like "this is the last stand of the Men of the West", and all the men of the west are white, and they face of in total war against Indians on Elephants and "black orcs" (er... maybe we just call them "blacks" for short) and the white Men of the West achieve a total genocidal victory. Doesn't that invalidate what you just said?

      A: Well, um, no. That's all fine & good, but remember that in the Holocaust we were committing g

      • by Lord_Dweomer (648696) on Monday December 22, 2003 @10:07PM (#7791855) Homepage
        "Remember that elves can ride eagles, and that elven archers are incredibly potent - early on, Gimli dismounts a Nazgul with a single shot! "

        Because we all know dwarves are great at archery.

        P.S.
        I think you meant Legolas, Gimli is the dwarf.

  • The LOTR trilogy gets my vote. Very faithful to teh movies.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:02PM (#7789046)
      I don't know, I didn't like that Tom Bombadil character they added in there. It was clearly just an attempt to pander to the female and homosexual audience, what with all the dancing and show tunes.

      I say, if you're not going to write the book 100% faithful to the movie, don't write the book at all!
  • Fiction (Score:4, Funny)

    by daeley (126313) * on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:01PM (#7789030) Homepage
    I'd like to nominate the SCO court filings for best work of fiction...and worst work of fiction.
  • Votes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:01PM (#7789035)
    How about the Divinci Code?

    And of course The Art of Unix Programming [catb.org]
    • Re:Votes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by shystershep (643874) * <bdshepherdNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:36PM (#7789434) Homepage Journal
      IMHO the DaVinci Code was good, but not great. For a much, much better book (also by Dan Brown) try Angels and Demons. I don't know if it was published this year (& therefore 'eligible'), but I found it better in every way than the DaVinci Code -- more (and better) science, more (and just as interesting) symbology, and just as much historical basis with tons of little tidbits that make you go 'hmm.'
    • Re:Votes (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Triv (181010)

      The DaVinci is...well, it's clever, but that's about it. It's a cute idea, sure, but the characters are one dimentional and wooden, the writing leaves absolutely no room for interpretation. It's a solid read, sure, but Best Books of 2003? Meh. Not for me. YMMV, of course.

      Triv

    • Re:Votes (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tsmccaff (683906)
      Of course, Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco covers similar ground. Its definitely a better book, not as accessable as Da Vinci Code, but Eco's writing is always joyous and laden with fascinating information.
      • Re:Votes (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Mr_Huber (160160) on Monday December 22, 2003 @06:52PM (#7790636) Homepage
        Eco's description of the church door near the beginning of _The Name of the Rose_ is one of my all-time favorite pieces of descriptive writing. It simultaneously serves to describe a door, comment on the state of theology at the time of the story, create the atmosphere and character of the monestary and demonstrait the character of the observer.

  • The Last Goobye... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by garcia (6573) * on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:01PM (#7789039) Homepage
    My worst reading for 2003 was: The Last Goodbye [amazon.com]

    I received the book to review ahead of time... It was absolutely terrible. I don't know about the rest of the world but I am not into reading books written as if I was reading at a third grade level (ie Stephen King's latest works). Trying to be bio-tech and computer savvy when you aren't just does not work.

    I was also irked by the author's apparent need to mention the race of the characters in the novel. It was almost as if he was trying to point out that it is possible for those of color to become lawyers and famous musicians (duh). Let the read imagine whatever they like about the characters don't shove it in their face.

    Just my worthless .02,
    • by Mantorp (142371)
      I don't know about the rest of the world but I am not into reading books written as if I was reading at a third grade level (ie Stephen King's latest works).

      Seeing that Stephen King is one of the most popular authors of our time I'd say most of the world disagree with you. All in all a pretty elitist thing to say. I'm not a huge fan but some of his books are really excellent in my opinion. But, I guess it's not cool to like a popular author.

  • Worst Book (Score:2, Funny)

    by canfirman (697952)
    Eleven Chapters on Chapter Eleven

    I expect submissions from Daryl McBride soon. Hopefully I don't have to pay $699 for the book.

  • ESR's book (Score:5, Insightful)

    by s390 (33540) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:03PM (#7789057) Homepage
    In the non-fiction category, Eric S. Raymond's "The Art of Unix Programming" gets my vote. It's simply excellent.
    • Re:ESR's book (Score:3, Informative)

      by kjd (41294)
      I agree. I picked this book up planning to skip through and read the interesting parts, but ended up digesting the whole thing from front to back in a couple days.

      Good reading for aspiring Unix hackers, or the experienced who enjoy reading insight from old-school Unix guys (Thompson, Ritchie, and several others pepper the book with their opinions throughout).
  • china meiville (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joeldg (518249) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:03PM (#7789058) Homepage
    anything by him..

    author of "Perdido street station"..

  • by Koyaanisqatsi (581196) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:03PM (#7789064)
    Movies have a definitive time they are out and you usually go see them during that period.

    Books are much more flexible, you don't need to constrain yourself to a rigid schedule or anything. I usually go out a few times a year a pick several interesting books that I'll read as time allows me to. When deciding what to get, release date (that is, the 2003 books for example) is not even considered; I just search for interesting stuff or previously unknown stuff from interesting authors.

    But it may just be me.
  • Hitler's Scientists (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Skynet (37427) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:04PM (#7789065) Homepage
    If you are into history I recommend this book:

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/06 70 030759/qid=1072126966//ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i0_xgl14/002 -1914962-9961668?v=glance&s=books&n=507846

    Interesting perspective into the role of science in the Nazi regime with moral/philosophical undertones.

  • by nebaz (453974) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:04PM (#7789067)
    I hate to say this, but the Crossroads of Twilight, the 10th Robert Jordan "Wheel of Time" book, really sucked. No major plot advancement has happened at all. Several pages are spent on one of the main characters taking a bath! It seems like in these books, time goes slower and slower. I think the series has gone downhill, since about the fifth book or so, but this one was really bad. I see no way for him to end the series in my life time, at this pace, with so many dangling plot threads, and a release cycle of one book every two years,
    • by frohike (32045) <bard.allusion@net> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:23PM (#7789277) Homepage

      I've read this series several times (generally right before a new book is about to come out, so I can have the full plot in mind) and I have to agree. It seems like all the Jordan fans I know agree as well. We all wait now until the new books hit the used shelf at the book store, and grab it at half price.

      I'm re-reading them again right now actually, just because I got bored and wanted something to read. It's really, really sad, knowing what they are going to come to, since the first few books are just awesome. He's managed to create this incredibly intricate and believable world, and then proceeds to run all the characters into the ground (SPOILER:Morgase as a fraidy-cat servant?!:SPOILER) and spawn so many plot threads that he ignores entire major characters per book. And yeah, the several pages about a bath, or a bank of fog, or.... that gets kinda annoying too.

      The sucker that I am though, I'm gonna finish reading the series as it comes out just because I want to know what happens. I can make some guesses, but he always seems to have a rabbit to pull out of the hat when you least expect it. :)

      That's one thing I'll say about the series that is cool, I read over the WoT FAQ recently before starting reading again, and from the discussions in there and having read the later books already, it was truly amazing to me how early he had started laying down the plots that happen 8000 pages later.

  • by quantax (12175) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:04PM (#7789078) Homepage
    Terry Pratchett's "Nightwatch" wasn't too bad, though it was not IMO as good as the previous 'Nightwatch' books such as "Guards! Guards!" and "Men of Arms", but it is definitely worth checking out if you're a Discworld fan. I haven't read "Monsterous Regiment" yet, anyone have an opinion on how that was?
    • by mir (106753)
      I liked Nightwatch, it revisits some recurring characters in a rather clever way.
      Monsterous Regiment was not as good. It feels like Terry Pratchett released an alpha version of the book: lots of ideas and characters that could have been developped further but weren't. Overall a very frustrating book, quite below the usual level of the series.
    • by elmegil (12001) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:21PM (#7789258) Homepage Journal
      I enjoyed Monstrous Regiment quite a bit. I think Pratchett is starting to get less manic and silly as he slows down with age, and whether you like that or not is really going to be a matter of taste. I thought Night Watch was better than a few of his more recent outings (wasn't really hep on Hogfather, and Carpe Jugulum and The Fifth Elephant left me a little flat), as well as really liking The Truth. I think the stories where he mostly is covering new characters give him some more room to stretch, whereas a lot of the old characters are so thoroughly developed it's harder to use them to say something new. Which doesn't mean he can't and doesn't succeed at that, but just that unused characters can seem more fresh.
  • Quicksilver? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cthrall (19889) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:05PM (#7789079) Homepage
    Quicksilver was a cool book. However, IMHO it wasn't nearly as good as Cryptonomicon. Here's why:

    * The characters feel similar to those in Cryptonomicon (another crazy Shaftoe, Daniel Waterhouse is akin to the main character from Crypto).

    * One of the hardest things to do right when there are parallel plotlines is connect them in a flowing and lucid manner. Cryptonomicon did an excellent job of weaving the past and present together. In Quicksilver, we get large chunks of uninterrupted narration, but there's very little context switching. This left me a little bored at times.

    It really felt rushed, like there was a great book in there that needed more time to be distilled.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm going to read the next two volumes, I was just a little disappointed that Quicksilver didn't live up to the high standards Stephenson has set himself in previous books.
    • by Russ Nelson (33911) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:39PM (#7789459) Homepage
      Hard to get the book together when you're writing it with a fucking quill pen.
      -russ
    • Re:Quicksilver? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jayhawk88 (160512)
      Let me guess: the protagonists save the day by creating a giant lake of mercury?

      Cryptinomicron: Good book, but still the worst ending of all time.
    • * The characters feel similar to those in Cryptonomicon (another crazy Shaftoe, Daniel Waterhouse is akin to the main character from Crypto).

      Close, but not strong enough. Apparently Stephenson was bored with the creative process and couldn't be assed to imagine new characters... so let's reissue a new Shaftoe and a new Waterhouse in a new era. Oh, and in case it wasn't clear enough that we are reusing the same characters lets bring back Enoch Root!

      But of course there need to be characters that weren't
  • Some quickies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dark Paladin (116525) * <jhummel@NosPam.johnhummel.net> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:06PM (#7789095) Homepage
    Some books that were "a hell of a lot better than I expected".

    "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" was pretty good - some "duh" moments with the characters that made you want to smack them all in the head and shout "Stop acting like you're 12!", but overall, pretty damned good.

    "Wolves of Callah". Go figure - I thought this would suck, since Mr. King seams to have lost something after his accident. But the story, even when I had pretty much figured things out, was still pretty good.

    On the "not great but not bad" area I'd put "The Da Vinci Code". Clever as hell idea, some interesting observations that had me going to my art books to check it out - great from that point of view. Great book to get people interested in art and the symbols used in literature, paintings, music, and so on.

    But why did the main characters Sophie and Robert suffer such massive brain farts at times? They'd talk about huge ideas in symbology - then 50 pages later, be stumped by a puzzle they had talked about earlier! (Well, and there was the incredible coincidence that a Harvard professor and a cryptologist both happen to be hot - how did that work out?)

    I think for my most enjoyed book so far this year was "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" by Al Franken. I don't agree with all of his politics, thought he had some good points, some bad points, and some so-so points - but damn if it wasn't funny and at least thought provoking at times.

    Worst book? "Chosen", the novelization for the last season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". I mean - punctuation mistakes all over the place, and somebody used "find and replace" in a bad way. Amazing how the word First and Chosen are always capitzlized, even when "Buffy was First into the room"? Remember, kids - even after you use Command-F, Command-V, Enter, you still need to proof read the damned thing.

    Just my opinions, of course. I still have to read Stephenson's "Quicksilver", but it's not out on peanutpress.com yet, and I'm not sure I have space in my backpack for another meatspace book.
  • by Omega1045 (584264) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:07PM (#7789099)
    I thought the New Testament was pretty good, but it lacks a lot of the action of the Old Testament. The use of metaphor was nice. Personally, I would have like a better ending. The 4 horseman things has been way overdone...
  • by Otter (3800) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:07PM (#7789100) Journal
    I tend to be a bit behind on books, as I get them mostly from the library. But since the only posts at this time are some LoTR comments and a particularly inane SCO bit, I'll kick in what I can:

    I really enjoyed two books by Isaac Adamson -- Hokkaido Popsicle [amazon.com] and the earlier Tokyo Suckerpunch. It's hard to describe them, but they're perfect for Japanophiles and other Asia-pop enthusiasts>

    Worst book of 2003 is easy -- Hillary Clinton's memoirs. As much as I detest her, she's obviously an interesting person but her book sounded like it was written by her staff and focus-grouped before publication.

    • by rbird76 (688731) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:17PM (#7789210)
      it's probably an example of the "I'm going to run for President so I need to appear intellectual by writing a book" thing. It probably was focus-grouped before publication - that way she doesn't have anything in writing to embarrass her later. Since the books written by future/current Presidential candidates seem to have had anything interesting strained out of them to avoid conflicts with future political positions, they're probably best avoided anyway. For politics, there are probably better places to go for informed commentary on their plans, and as personal background it probably isn't very useful.

      The more interesting version of her book should come out about thirty years from now.
  • "Literature Geek?" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OECD (639690) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:10PM (#7789132) Journal
    The phrase "Literature Geek" makes me wonder, can you be a "Sports Geek"? Or a "Fashion Geek"?
    • by Little Brother (122447) <kg4wwn@qsl.net> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:19PM (#7789234) Journal
      Yes. I've met one of each of those. The sports geeks (if they're good) will know the history of most major sports, and a few minor ones. The history is beyond what would be found in almanics and will include the predesessors of the sport. They will understand one or two sports (like CS geeks will understand one or two programming languages) extensively. They are able to tell you about all the current rules and the progression from earlier rules that brought the current rules into being. They know nearly every current player in their sport of choice (The hockey geek I knew could give me the entire starting roster of every team in the NHL (I had to use google to even find out what the teams were)). Sport geeks often invent their own plays/moves, and these often actualy work on whatever level they are playing at and they can support why such a play/tecnique would work in the majors. (I'm sure some people in the majors ARE sports geeks, but I have no way of knowing.) Although a sports geek may be a fan of a specific team, they are able to list the strong and weak points of any team more-or-less objectively.

      As for fasion geek, see fung shui (spelling) masters for more information. (I guess, I know less on this topic)

  • Oryx and Crake [oryxandcrake.co.uk] was a pretty decent number. Anyone who thinks that bio-engineering is out of control will eat this stuff up. Three cheers for pigoons and wolvogs!
  • 2 cents. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cgranade (702534) <cgranadeNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:11PM (#7789138) Homepage Journal
    Personally, I'm interested in politics, so I found Dude, Where's My Country? to be a very interesting work. Moore improves on Stupid White Men a lot by incorporating many more references to works cited, and elaborating his position better. For that matter, one of my textbooks made interesting reading: Gov't and Business.
    Worst book? Anything by Ann Coulter. She claims in her latest book, Treason, that being liberal is a sin worse than terrorism. If that isn't hateful and just plain wacked, I don't know what is.
  • by Augusto (12068) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:14PM (#7789177) Homepage
    They're boring, predictable, and are big ego trips for the authors:

    Ann Coulter : Treason : Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism

    Al Franken : Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

    Michael Moore : Dude, Where's My Country?

    Bill O'Reilly : Who's Looking Out for You?

    Eric Alterman : What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News

    Sean Hannity : Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism

    Alan Colmes : Red, White & Liberal : How Left Is Right & Right Is Wrong


    And a lot more. Surprisingly, lots of these books sell a lot, preaching to the choir of the converted, yet contributing no new ideas or being slightly interesting.
    • by Sebastopol (189276) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:31PM (#7789390) Homepage
      Only the books by left-wingers are crap, the books by the right-wingers are all 100% accurate and truthful.

    • right here... (Score:3, Informative)

      by garcia (6573) *
      Oh my personal pet peeve are authors that like to hear themselves talk. There is nothing like reading a book about a professor's life that is compared with the Cold War.

      I read My Cold War [amazon.com] ahead of time. It was not only unbearably boring I actually felt sorry for the students that this professor lectures to. I am sure he makes them read this novel for a better understanding of him as a person and why he grades them poorly when they tell him that his book sucks.

      The rest of his books (listed here [tompiazza.com] on his
  • The Da Vinci Code (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Templar (14386) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:14PM (#7789178) Homepage
    The Da Vinci Code [amazon.com] by Dan Brown was a lot of fun, even if the Priory of Sion [fiu.edu] has turned out to be a fraud.

    I'm looking forward to his next book which will be about Freemasonry.
  • by tjic (530860) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:16PM (#7789202) Homepage
    The ironically named _Quicksilver_ is the most disappointingly leaden book it has been my displeasure to read in recent years.

    After _Cryptonomicon_ my expectations were high. Early on in _Quicksilver_ I realized that there was no way this book could be as good as the earlier one, so I adjusted my hopes downward accordingly...and even then, I was disappointed.

    The flaws are numerous.

    The one thing that everyone knows about the book is that it contains a frantic pile of trivia. I was actually looking forward to this aspect of the book, given that I enjoy random learning opportunities as much as the next geek, and given that this is one part of _Cryptonomicon_ that I was enthused about. _QS_ disappoints in this regard. To my mind there are two main bins that trivia are sorted in to: (1) those random items that are capable of clicking in an interesting way into the knowledge structure I already have; and (2) utterly random tidbits. NS delivered a few of the former, and a few truck-loads of the latter. In so far as the trivia was interesting, I already knew it (Germanic witch trials, etymology of the word "dollar", the broad outlines and purposes of the various 16th century political structures), and in so far as the trivia was not something I already knew, I found it dreadfully boring (hail-storms of random names of royalty, many of them playing minimal roles in the plot, etc.).

    Ah. I used the word "plot", so I've segued onto the next region of disappointment. _QS_ does not have a plot, in the conventional sense. Sure, in a 900 page novel (or a 2,700 page novel, really), one wouldn't expect the broad sweep of the action to be clear by page 50, or 100...but by page 500 or so, one would hope to have an idea of where things might be going. The book has Theme aplenty.

    The Theme, however ("Things Really Changed a Whole Lot, Religiously, Economically, Politically, and Scientifically"), is big, but too insubstantial and too vague to construct a huge novel like this on. _A Winter's Tale_ managed to work very well with out a real plot - it could hang off of the Theme that "New York changes a lot, and is magical through the ages". Then again, _A Winter's Tale_ was about 1/9th the length of Stephenson's Inflated Series.

    Speaking of inflation, this book needed an editor, badly. Dialogue and exposition are clunky in many many places. For that matter, dialogue and exposition are poorly differentiated. There's a joke about 1950's science fiction that 3/4 of the plot and background information are revealed in "As you know, Bob" asides. The same is true of _QS_. There's some minor variation on a theme: there's "As you know", there is "I need not mention the fact that X ...< 1,000 words elided >...because you already know that", and there is "as everyone in the town knew...".

    There's a persistent and pernicious meme in the art world that to truly convey some situations you need to recreate those situations for the audience. Thus, the only way to convey tedium is through a four hour movie, etc. NS seemed to be held by this meme: to convey the intellectual ferment and vast scope of the 17th century he felt the need write a book that was adrift in a ferment and vast in scope. Certainly he could not have conveyed these things in a novella, but that does not mean that he could not have pruned perhaps a third of what he wrote.

    The book is large enough that there's a Dramatis Personae at the end, which was somewhat useful...but it didn't work wonderfully well for me, because the entries were fairly short and defined the characters (well, historical figures) mostly in terms of descriptors and events that did not take place inside the book. If I come across a character who I know was present 500 pages earlier, but I'm trying to remember whether that character was a alchemist or a merchant, it helps little to learn that the character was a friend of the Duke of Wessex (or what have you). This is not a huge departure from how Dramatis Personae are usu

  • by Scarblac (122480) <slashdot@gerlich.nl> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:18PM (#7789225) Homepage

    I read Kim Stanley Robinson's _The Years of Rice and Salt_ and I like it a lot. It was a Hugo nominee. It's an alternate history, where all of Europe was destroyed by the Plague (instead of only a third) and world history is shaped by the Chinese, the Indians and the world of Islam.

    I'm reading _Quicksilver_ now, and it's actually really cool that they are many parallels. Alchemists, invention of the scientific method, the books keep reminding me of each other. Very nice.

    I don't know if there are any people who find the first part of Quicksilver hard going: read on, the second part is brilliant :-)

  • Linux From Scratch (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nasarius (593729) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:19PM (#7789232)
    LFS [linuxfromscratch.org] and BLFS [linuxfromscratch.org] 5.0 are certainly two of the most useful, informative "books" I've read.

    And I have to agree with those bashing Robert Jordan, even though I haven't read his latest pile of crap. WoT is a series that started out so amazingly good, then was ruined by its author. It's his maddeningly slow pace, and more importantly, the fact that every single one of his female characters (except perhaps Min) is an arrogant b!tch. They're all extremely annoying, some more so than others.

  • by Sebastopol (189276) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:28PM (#7789351) Homepage
    by Cory Doctorrow.

    First there was Neuromancer.

    Then Snow Crash took the reins.

    "Down and Out..." is the next in the logical procession of futurist novels.

    The world is run by ad-hocracies (basically, large groups of fans), everyone has computers in their brains, collaberation happens in the cerebellum, and crygenics is de rigeur.

    Awesome, awesome book.
    • I have mixed feelings about this book. As a great scifi idea book it is a lot of fun. Really interesting and entertaining exploration of a bunch of futuristic ideas, social currencies, alternate forms of government, things like that. I grew up a few minutes drive from Disney Land and had many friends who worked there, so I find his obsession with the Cult of the Mouse very entertaining. If that's all you need to get out of a book, I heartily recommend it. The main character of the book is well developed
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. This book blew my mind. It's the story of a kid with Asperger's Syndrome written from his perspective. You get so lost in his head, the amazing complexity of his world and the techniques he's developed to cope with the people and situations around him, and then you are with him as he is forced out into the raw real world. Perdito Street Station by China Mieville was a strong runner up for me. I think both books are particularly well suited for geeks.

    Worst book? I'm past the point where I waste my time with books that suck. I used to push through just to finish the book but now that I'm realizing that life is short I just close the book and move on.
  • by cthrall (19889) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:34PM (#7789415) Homepage
    Awesome series of books about the Royal Navy during the 1800's. Highly recommended.
  • by haplo21112 (184264) <haplo@epithnaERDOS.com minus math_god> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:44PM (#7789513) Homepage
    My wife started listening to King's Gunsliger Series in the car. Due to her talking about it I took the first four books(paper since I see audio books as something for after I have actaully read the books, for car drives and going to sleep), which us on Vaca as fluff reading(paperback = fluff reading, hardcover = Non-fluff due to weight of book). I had figured that a story bascially boiling down to a western wouldn't apeal to me (That and I have never read a king book before so I wasn't sure I'd like his style)...I was toally surprised, these are damn good books, and it actually makes me interested to read them (something few books do lately, perhaps I am tireing of Sci-Fi Fantasy)...I am in the middle of Wizard and Glass nw, and its shaping up to be as good as the rest, and I am hurriedly trying to get through it so I can red Wolves of Callah(sp?) the next book which my wife has promised (but is getting itchy) to not start on audiobook till I catchup.
  • Probably I'm biased (Score:3, Informative)

    by Glenn R-P (83561) <randeg@alum.rpi.edu> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:47PM (#7789542) Journal
    But I've got to vote for my mother's books. She discovered POD (Print On Demand) publishing this year and published 5 novels, three of them being a trilogy starting with "Stones for a Crumbling Wall".
    http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_de tail.asp ?isbn=0-595-26582-0

    Iuniverse is quite generous with their "browse before you buy" which allows you to read the entire book.
  • Altered Carbon (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lelitsch (31136) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:50PM (#7789569)
    Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan would make the top of my fiction list for 2003. Starts a bit slow, but I still read it in one night. The basic premise is that rich enough people can digitize their consciousness and travel, or be reincarnated, by just transferring the "stack" to a new human "sleeve". But the fun moments are really the details like self aware hotels, catholics as a small right-to-die sect, outdated robots running gun shops etc. A bit over the top in places, but it hangs together pretty well.
  • Jasper Fforde (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HiKarma (531392) * on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:53PM (#7789590)
    Well, it's really an older book series, but since the paperbacks only came out in the USA in 2003, I will put forward the most refreshing and amusing books I've seen in a while, The Eyre Affair and its sequel Lost in a Good Book by Jasper FForde.

    A marvelous alternative Britain where everybody is highly literate, and our heroine, Thursday Next, is a Special Operations officer in the LitraTec (Literary crimes) division.

    Alas, the latest one, The Well of Lost Plots, can't be recommended quite as highly, even though it centers on a concept near and dear to the /.ers heart (which I can't reveal as it is a spoiler.)
  • by Devil (16134) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:55PM (#7789609) Homepage

    As an unabashed and yet notoriously picky (read: pain in the ass to buy for) sci-fi fan, here are a few of my favorite books of 2003.

    I just finished China Mieville's Perdido Street Station [amazon.com] and I am flabbergasted. Mieville's city-state of New Crobuzon is utterly fantastic and his clarity of vision for his world, in my opinion, is the kind you only come across once in a great while. I will most certainly be picking up his newest novel, The Scar [amazon.com] , as soon as I finish a couple of books curently in my queue.

    I was delighted that in the last year (or perhaps a little bit more), the great Samuel R. Delany's books have begun coming back into print. Three of his novels, Dhalgren [amazon.com] , Nova [amazon.com] and the duplex Babel-17/Empire Star [amazon.com] , along with his short story collection Aye, and Gomorrah... and other stories [amazon.com] are all truly wonderful sci-fi. If you decide to read him, start with Aye, and Gomorrah..., Babel-17/Empire Star and then Nova; when you think you have a handle on him, tackle Dhalgren. Tackling Dhalgren is no easy task, but the journey is completely worth it.

    Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow now has two books in print ( Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [amazon.com] and A Place So Foregin and Eight Mor [amazon.com] e [amazon.com]) and a third on the way. Both books (a novel and a short story collection respectively) showcase a writer I am quite sure we'll be seeing a whole lot more of in the future. Doctorow's writing reads very much like the first writer of the next generation of sci-fi writers; you won't be disappointed.

    Cyberpunk poster boy William Gibson also had a new book this year, Pattern Recognition [amazon.com]. As his writing pressed forward, Gibson has slipped further and further from futurity into today, creating science fiction that happens in today's world. His latest work is an interesting story of Cayce Pollard, a cool-hunter with a severe allergy to brands. The story is, as with all things Gibson, tightly written and as focused as a laser beam on its subject. A great read for all.

    I sure hope this helps. I know not all the books came out specifically in 2003, but I read them all in 2003 (along with countless others) and I think that's close enough for me to sneak them in.

  • by Triv (181010) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:55PM (#7789613) Journal
    Avoiding the sci-fi -tech journal swing of this thread, here's a list of extremely good stuff that practically no one's heard of:

    James Frey: A Million Little Pieces

    A memoir dealing with the author's time in rehab. Very, very raw. Extremely inventive writing style.

    Colin Dexter: Train

    Set in the 50's, Dexter weaves the lives of a cop, the wife of a murder victim, a black caddy and his friend in a decidedly creepy way. Bagger Vance this ain't.

    Paul Auster: Oracle Night

    When a book takes over your life. This modern-day fairy tale shows off auster's flair for the...well, the odd. Auster use footnotes to tell two stories at a time...it's kinda hard to describe, but it works.

    I'm sure there are more, but I've gotta head to work.

    Triv

  • by psykocrime (61037) <mindcrime.cpphacker@co@uk> on Monday December 22, 2003 @05:01PM (#7789683) Homepage Journal
    The Art of Deception, by Kevin Mitnick.

    Ok, the copyright date on my copy says it was published in 2002 (must have came out **late** in 2002, or my memory is really going, as I could have sworn I haven't had this book a year...), but I didn't read it until this year... anyway, it's one of my favorites and definitely gets a vote for "Book of the Year."
  • by wazzzup (172351) <.astromac. .at. .fastmail.fm.> on Monday December 22, 2003 @05:11PM (#7789769)
    Although they came out in 2002 the paperback versions debuted in 2003.

    Life of Pi by Yann Martel. My favorite this year. What a fantastic book. It's no wonder many colleges and universities are incorporating it into their required reading cirriculum. An Indian boy becomes lost at sea after a ship he was riding on sinks. His only passenger in the lifeboat - a Bengal tiger.

    Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides. Written by the same author of The Virgin Suicides. It's a story about a Greek girl (boy) born as a hermaphrodite in a Greek family and her experiences growing up in that environment and that condition. Won the Pulitzer I believe.

    Books rock. They are soooooo much better than the tripe offered on t.v. BTW, is anybody else offended that TLC stands for The Learning Channel? There's nothing learning about that channel anymore. Just Trading Spaces and the umpteen variations on that theme.
  • by merciless (165775) on Monday December 22, 2003 @05:27PM (#7789907)
    The New Financial Order by Robert J. Shiller argues a way to remake modern economies as we know it by HEDGING THE WHOLE ECONOMY! Imagine if all the risks and shocks of our economy be cushioned by modern risk management techniques on a global scale, and you have a book that talk about such strange concepts as "profession insurance" to "inequality insurance" and "intergenerational social security". It's a must read for anybody who consider themselves at the cutting edge of modern thinking.
  • Quicksilver (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bugmaster (227959) on Monday December 22, 2003 @05:43PM (#7790038) Homepage
    Actually, I'd nominate Quicksilver for worst book of the year. Sure, it has everything -- sex, adventure, politics, etc. -- but all this stuff is so jumbled, random, disorganized and pretentious that reading the book feels like nothing more than a tedious chore. At least Cryptonomicon had encryption in it. Bah.
  • by ShortedOut (456658) on Monday December 22, 2003 @05:46PM (#7790078) Journal
    Ok, shoot me, mod me down, whatever you gotta do. I liked this book. Yes, I'm a 29 year old netadmin, and yes, it isn't cool to like this kind of stuff. But hey, I'm a freaking nerd.

    I'm sorry, but the Harry Potter books are extremely well written, and are highly entertaining to read, even as an "adult".

    Ok, I'm going into hiding now.
    • DAMNIT!

      Post Anony is too damn close to Submit! My rep is ruined!

      Damn you Slashdot! Damn you!!!

      Oh, this isn't the *real* ShortedOut... no, I'm his co-worker.. yeah, that's it... A co-worker that likes Harry Potter, yeah...

      The real ShortedOut is way cool, he dates Carmen Electra, has a 12 inch peen, drives a Harley, and is on Linus's phone-a-friend list for Who Wants to be a Linux Programmer.
    • Don't worry about it -- screw people who don't like it just because it's popular. It's a great series of books. I'm with Stephen King when he says the series is "one for the ages" that will stand the test of time along with Tolkien, Wizard of Oz, or name your classic of literature.

  • Or alternatively, (Score:3, Informative)

    by gonerill (139660) on Monday December 22, 2003 @05:50PM (#7790124) Homepage
    There's always the Top 10 Books I Did Not Read This Year [crookedtimber.org].
  • By China Mieville, Dan Simmons, Gene Wolfe and R. A. Lafferty, respectively. Only the Simmons came out this year, and the Wolfe comes out next.

    If you're interested in slightly more detailed descriptions of what I've read this year, you can check out my reading diary [io.com].

  • by blankmange (571591) on Monday December 22, 2003 @08:33PM (#7791379)
    The Myth of Homeland Security by Marcus J. Ranum. Shows the essential truth about homeland security.
  • by job0 (134689) on Monday December 22, 2003 @08:46PM (#7791475)
    A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson was the book I enjoyed the most this year. He did make a few mistakes and he does gloss things over but it's an excellent read for anyone that wants to know about most of the major scientific advances in the last 300 years and the people that have made them. For me the real strength of the book is the way he brings these people to life with his anecdotes and the fact that he makes the very important point of how incredibly little we know.
  • by DonK (16030) on Tuesday December 23, 2003 @12:01AM (#7792350)
    Marcus du Sautoy's The Music of the Primes, and John Derbyshire's Prime Obsession are two books on the history and lore of the Riemann Hypothesis (after the solution of Fermat's Last Theorem, now generally considered the foremost oustanding unsolved mathematical problem). Surprisingly different, each has content which is mathematically substantial but aimed at a general (OK, ambitious) audience with enough biographical and historical background to suggest the point of this conjecture, and give reasons why a solution may be forthcoming.
  • It Must Be Beautiful (Score:3, Informative)

    by thelizman (304517) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `kcattaremmah'> on Tuesday December 23, 2003 @01:41AM (#7792754) Homepage
    It's actually a 2002 book, but I believe it's first US printing is 2003, so here goes: "It Must Be Beautiful, Great Equations of Modern Science". Edited by Graham Farmelo, this book is a collection of essays by 11 of todays best and brightest. The readings aren't dry at all, and science/mathematics buffs will be struck by how palatable this book is. For me, it drove home one thing I always knew to be factual, but never considered in philisophical terms, that formulae aren't just tools for calculations, they're expressions of ideas. That point is well made in chapter one when Einstein is compared to Planck, especially in that they both came up with the same E=hf formula, but applied to nearly unrelated areas of physics (cavity radiation vs quantum radiation). Then the point is further illustrated in talking about the Drake equation, a formula well blasted for its uselessness, but highly lauded for it's ability to provoke deep scientific discussion on topics from astrophysics to cosmology to sociology and philosophy.

    I'm about half way through this book right now, and I find myself going back to dwell on previous chapters I've already read. While I don't exactly have a hard-on for this book, it is interesting enough that I'd recommend it to anyone with a menial mathematics and physics background who is interested in a new insight into the mundane triviality of text-book errata.
  • by danny (2658) on Tuesday December 23, 2003 @05:13AM (#7793304) Homepage
    Six books I read this year made it onto my all-time best books [dannyreviews.com] list. Of course none of those were published this year, but my reading is rarely "cutting-edge".

    Danny.

  • The worst? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Wakko Warner (324) * on Tuesday December 23, 2003 @11:11AM (#7794858) Homepage Journal
    "Treason", by Ann Coulter. That guy has issues. And breasts.

    - A.P.

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