A recurring theme from this summer’s reading:
- The Fear Index – Robert Harris
Harris is best known for relatively highbrow historical thrillers spanning ancient Rome to the Second World War but has been inhabiting the present of late. Here he delivers a taut thriller where a quant hedge fund’s black box moves beyond trading the markets to manipulating them, to the consternation of its creators.
- Kill Decision – Daniel Suarez
After his incendiary debut with Daemon and its surprisingly disappointing sequel Freedom(tm), Suarez is back in form looking at the impact of autonomous military drones. He is great at extrapolating today’s technology a relatively short distance into the future for a step function impact, and delivers almost cinematic action scenes while raising deeper geopolitical issues. Like Daemon, it ends in media res, so a sequel is coming.
- Angelmaker – Nick Harkaway
More focused than his The Gone-Away World, Harkaway restrains his propensity for discursive back-story and existential protagonist issues to deliver a more focused story about a throw-back mechanical doomsday machine threatening the world, with a rotating (and superbly named) cast of clockmakers, super villains, sinister bureaucrats, gangsters, octogenarian superspies, piranhas and others.
- Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
The humans ultimately manage to pass down control over the machines, but this is a trailer park Neuromancer paying homage to the music, movies and video games of the 1980s in thoroughly creative fashion. Must read if you spent any of your formative years in that decade.
- Race Against the Machine – Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
Non-fiction from a couple of MIT professors where the subtitle is almost as long as the book itself. They argue that our economic woes do not stem from the Keynesians’ misplaced aggregate demand or too little innovation (see The Great Stagnation), but rather too much innovation. The median worker is losing out to the exponential growth of computing as it devours more and more human tasks. Structural unemployment ensues as people cannot re-skill fast enough in the face of creative destruction. While the diagnosis is thought provoking, the policy prescriptions are banal as seems par for the course with such books.