Pluralistic: All the books I reviewed in 2022 (01 Dec 2022)

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Interior of the George Peabody Library in Baltimore.

All the books I reviewed in 2022 (permalink)

Every year around this time, I round up all the books I reviewed in the previous 12 months; both as a convenience for readers and to remind myself that I don't need to feel quite so horribly guilty about all the books I didn't review (to those authors: rest assured, I still feel horribly guilty).

The cover for 'Chokepoint Capitalism.'

I should probably mention here that I had a book of my own come out in 2022:

Chokepoint Capitalism (co-authored with Rebecca Giblin)

A solutions-oriented look at how concentration in the tech and culture industries screws over creative workers, filled with detailed proposals for unrigging these markets and getting artists paid:

Before I get to this year's books, here are links to previous editions. These are also good books and deserving of your attention!

Now, on to 2022!


I. Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson

The cover of Neal Stephenson's 'Termination Shock.'

An ambitious, sprawling tale of an eccentric Texas truck-stop magnate who unilaterally begins a program of geoengineering in a bid to cool the Earth by doping the stratosphere with sulfur. A great look at the social and technical dimensions of geoengineering, filled with Stephensonian grace-notes, from superb use of language to delightful, idiosyncratic characters.

II. Dark Factory by Kathe Koja

The cover for Kathe Koja's novel 'Dark Factory.'

Koja – an incredible, versatile writer who has pioneered multiple genres of fiction – presents an "immersive novel," about a high-stakes Bohemian party scene of mixed-reality artists, wealthy dilettantes, weird theorists and the very serious business of fun.

III. Aspects by John M Ford

The cover for John M Ford's novel 'Aspects.'

The long-awaited, unfinished first volume of a steampunk fantasy series, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman; "what Game of Thrones might have been, if the author had been fascinated by trains…communication and politics, magic, redemption, and the forms that love can take." A book of quiet – but stunning – erudition. Every aspect of Ford's world – its politics, its history, its geography, its magic, its technology, its economics, its mythos – rings true. What's more, every part of it fits together with the rest of it in a way that is so believable that it feels realer than our own world at times.

IV. Up Against It by Laura J Mixon

The cover for Laura J Mixon's 'Up Against It.'

The cracking first volume of WAVE, a space-opera series that manages to be both original — full of smart new ways of looking at science fiction ideas — and old fashioned — full of the kind of whiz-bang action-adventure that made so many of us fall in love with the field in the first place, about high-stakes administration of a space colony, where being good at your job is the utmost praxis. Republished as part of the Tor Essentials line.

V. The Animals In That Country by Laura Jean McKay

The cover for Laura Jean McKay's 'The Animals in That Country.'

An extraordinary debut novel, about a plague of understanding that sweeps across Australia, leaving the infected cursed with the ability to communicate with animals. It's an inversion of the standard trope of people and animals communicating with one another and finding mutual understanding and peace as a result. McKay sets herself the (seemingly) impossible of dramatizing human-animal communication without anthropomorphizing the animals, and then pulls it off – brilliantly.

VI. Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey

The cover for Sarah Gailey's 'Just Like Home.'

A gothic horror/haunted house novel that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It's a spooky tale of body-horror and homecoming that's full of twists and turns and unexpected villains and heroes. Vera's father Francis Crowder was a serial killer, but he loved her. He built the house she grew up in with his own hands, including the soundproofed basement. He did bad things, and he went to prison for them, and Vera never saw him again.

VII. A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys

The cover for Ruthanna Emrys' 'A Half-Built Garden.'

A spectacular first-contact novel about complicated utopias and networked conflict – it's a wild ride, where the protagonist is a perfect match for the world, where a century of incredibly hard, smart work has carried us through the climate emergency, to the point where it's possible to believe that, over time, we will stabilize our relationship with the only known planet in the known universe capable of sustaining our species.

VIII. When Franny Stands Up by Eden Robins

The cover for Eden Robins' novel 'When Franny Stands Up.'

Here's the McGuffin of this debut novel: The advent of World War II and the rise of woman comedians (filling in the vacuum left by the departure of all the men) reveals the existence of Showstoppers: involuntary psychic reactions that woman comedians can induce in female audience members when they're really cooking. A book that feels simultaneously utterly contemporary and like an old, beloved classic.


I. Pixels of You, by Ananth Hirsh, Yuko Ota and Jenn Doyle

The cover for 'Pixels of You.'

A sweet, smart tale of art, bitterness, enmity and camaraderie, packagaged as a YA sf graphic novel. Pixels is a buddy story, one where the irreconcilable is reconciled, where hate flips to love and back again, and where art is debated, created, destroyed and finally remade – where one buddy is an orphaned cyborg with a digital eye, and the other is a human-presenting AI desperate to fit in.

II. Crazy in Poughkeepsie by Daniel Pinkwater

The cover for Daniel Pinkwater's 'Crazy in Poughkeepsie.'

A standalone, demi-sequel to 2020's "Adventures of Dwergish Girl," a YA novel about a sort-of Catskills leprechaun girl whose coming of age involves moving to human civilization, learning the art of pizza-making, getting involved with community radio, venturing to New York City to drink papaya juice and learn mystic secrets from a junk-store owner, and, ultimately, resolving an existential threat to human civilization based on weaponizing a large cohort of Civil War ghosts (she gets help from an ancient witch).

In "Crazy," Pinkwater introduces us to Mick, who's just come home from his first overnight camp experience. While he was away, his older brother, Maurice, has gone trekking in Nepal to find a guru (Maurice has been sold on gurus from superhero comics where having a guru is a surefire way to acquire mystical powers).

III. The Big Box of Sparkly Unicorn Magic by Dana Claire

The cover for Dana Claire's 'Big Box of Sparkly Unicorn Magic.'
A boxed set that includes the first four 'Phoebe and Her Unicorn' bound together in a fat, satisfying paperback, that's big enough to feel exciting, but not too big for small hands to grasp. The 'Phoebe' books tell a hilarious, sweet, and unsentimental story about a kid and her imaginary friend ripped straight from the Calvin and Hobbes playbook, but with new, lateral moves that are strictly her own – anarchic kid humor, snarky adult humor, slightly over-their-head jokes that kids enjoy once they’re explained. Included in this anthology is the third Phoebe and Her Unicorn book, Unicorns vs Goblins, which contains the introduction my daughter Poesy and I co-wrote.


I. Electrify by Saul Griffith

The cover for Saul Griffith's 'Electrify.'

The MacArthur prizewinning engineer offers a detailed, optimistic and urgent roadmap for a climate-respecting energy transition that we can actually accomplish in 10-15 years. The US's energy budget has been wildly overstated. About half of the energy that the US consumes is actually the energy we need to dig, process, transport, store and use fossil fuels.

Renewables have these costs, too, but nothing near the costs of using fossil fuels. An all-electric nation is about twice as efficient as a fossil fuel nation. That means that the problem of electrifying America is only half as hard as we've been told it was. A just energy transition isn't a transition to ecology austerity – you can have better, cheaper versions of the stuff you love.

II. The Right to Repair by Aaron Perzanowski

The cover for Aaron Perzanowski's 'The Right to Repair.'

In a series of short, punchy chapters, Perzanowski lays out the ancient, noble and necessary case for repair – a practice as old as the first resharpened stone axe – and proceeds to dissect each of the idiotic pretenses used to block it. From IP law to trade law, from consumer protection to consumer safety, from cybersecurity to unfair competition, Perzanowski demolishes the corporate argument for filling our planet up with immortal garbage in the name of consumerism.

III. Woody Guthrie, Songs and Art * Words and Wisdom by Nora Guthrie and Robert Santelli

The cover for 'Woody Guthrie, Songs and Art - Words and Wisdom'

332 pages of reproductions of Guthrie's art, songs and journals, as well as essays by notables who were influenced by Guthrie, as well as two of his kids: Arlo and Nora Guthrie. Guthrie's journals and essays chart the development of a full-fledged philosophy of art and aesthetics.

IV. The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow

The cover for David Graeber and David Wengrow's 'The Dawn of Everything.'

The most important book I read in 2022. Its core argument: that the shape of societies – hierarchical or non, authoritarian or free – is not foreordained by our technology or living arrangements. We are free to choose who we want to be: equal or unequal, coercive or free, warlike or peaceful. A dizzying, thorough, beautifully told series of histories of ancient civilizations, many of which have only come into focus thanks to recent advances in archaeological technology. They show that every conceivable variation on centralization, coercion, hierarchy, violence, agriculture and urbanism has existed, in multiple places, for hundreds or thousands of years at a time.

V. How to Take Over the World by Ryan North

The cover for Ryan North's book 'How to Take Over the World.'

A popular science book that tours a wide-ranging set of technological ideas by means of explaining how to realize the supervillain plots so beloved of Marvel comics. It's full of extremely funny, extremely informative riffs that make for an engrossing frame for very deep dives into knowledge that are esoteric, interdisciplinary, and damned interesting.

VI. The High Sierra by Kim Stanley Robinson

The cover for Kim Stanley Robinson's 'The High Sierra.'

A unique and profound piece of western literature. The key is in that subtitle: "A Love Story." It's a memoir, of how Robinson came to be a Sierra person, starting with a reckless adventure in the mountains while tripping on LSD, wildly unprepared but young and vigorous and lucky. It's a story about the physical being of the Sierra. The Sierra is revealed as the source of Robinson's novelistic pastoralism – the vividness of the Martian hills, of space station interiors, of Antarctica. All of those descriptions are thinly veiled Sierras, like a set of stock characters in a novelist's ensemble cast who are stand-ins for the people in his life.

It's a story about the problems of the Sierras. The colonialism. The genocide. The place-names honoring the monsters of history, butted up against names commemorating heroes and lovers of the place, some settler colonialists, some First Nations. The ecocide, going back to the drowning of the Hetch Hetchy basin, not just to create a reservoir but to demoralize the advocates for nature and wilderness, scatter them so powerful men could continue to seize and destroy wild places.

It's a story about living with the Sierras. Robinson recounts the history of the summer settlements – the places where First Nations people would come, year after year, for centuries, for fellowship and interchange and ritual. He tells the tale of the Sierra Club, the men – and especially the women – who loved the Sierras and whom the Sierra loved back.

Robinson made me fall in love with a place I've never been, and miss it even though I've never known it.

VII. Ways of Being by James Bridle

The cover for James Bridle's 'Ways of Being.'

A big, lyrical, strange and inspiring book about the "more than human world" – a world that encompasses the worldview of animals, ecosystems, and software. "Inanimate" objects – a homebrew self-driving car and a recommendation algorithm – both have distinct worldviews (umwelts). Our own umwelt and desires impact these inanimate objects, too; we are inextricably tangled up with them. Their actions result from our actions, and our actions result from theirs.

The whole world – from microscopic organisms that are neither animals nor plants to birds to primates, to plants and the fungi that interpenetrate and coexist with their root cells – is part of this phenomenon. Indeed, the interconnectedness of everything is so profound and so undeniable that any close examination of any phenomenon, being, or object leads to the inescapable conclusion that it can't be understood as a separate, standalone thing, separate from everything else.

VIII. Adventure Capitalism by Raymond Craib

The cover for Raymond B Craib's 'Adventure Capitalism.'

The history the Libertarian Exit movement(s), separatist projects that seek to find a truly empty land, or a land that can be non-coercively acquired (through a free purchase from a rightful owner) and undo the original sins of property. When all you've got is John Locke's hammer, everything looks like empty lands.

The thought-experiment of a coercion-free life where the marketplace of free exchange produces the most wealth and freedom our species can create always founders on reality's shores. The original sins of property – genocide and enclosure – can never be washed away. The desire to found a land where your luck (of achievement and/or birth) is untainted by coercion is understandable, but doomed.

IX. War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson A. Denis

The cover for Nelson A. Denis's War Against All Puerto Ricans.'

For generations, Puerto Rico was a classic imperial periphery, the place where eminent families sent their failsons for a second chance. The most rapacious corporations in American – along with the US military – established operations in PR and staffed them with a clown cavalcade of idiots and sadists, who, by dint of birth, were put in a position of power over the people of Puerto Rico.

Each of these men came to Puerto Rico to seek their fortune, and, by and large, they found it – extracted it, rather, from the sweat and blood of Puerto Ricans. They committed gaffes, scams and atrocities and then went back to the mainland, where they were celebrated. These are the antagonists of Denis's narrative, with the failsons serving as foils, villains, and color.

Apart from their Puerto Ricanness, the protagonists of this story would make great American folkloric heroes, Horatio Algers who came from humble beginnings, succeeded through thrift, tireless striving and indomitable will, devoted themselves to justice, and stood up to bullies – and paid with their lives for a righteous cause.

But because the bullies they stood up to were operating as agents of America, they are forgotten. Not even reviled – erased. On the American mainland, the Puerto Rican revolution isn't even a footnote. Indeed, Puerto Rico itself is often forgotten by America, despite the many sons and daughters of the island who have fought for its military.

X. Survival of the Richest by Douglas Rushkoff

The cover for Douglas Rushkoff's 'Survival of the Richest.'

The wealthiest, most powerful people in the world understand on a deep level that they way they live has a good chance of causing civilizational collapse, mass die-offs, and terminally poison the only planet in the universe known to be capable of supporting human life.

Our society, our lives, and our planet are viewed as the booster stage of a rocket – a disposable thruster made to get us into orbit before it is discarded. We might wipe out our planet and civilization, but they can retreat to islands. Or orbit. Or Mars. Or the metaverse. Survival is an inquiry into the origins of this bizarre and suicidal impulse, asking how psychedelics, cybernetics, and techno-liberation movements could have resulted in this bizarre embrace of the end of the world

XI. The Persuaders by Anand Giridharadas

The cover for Anand Giridharadas's 'The Persuaders.'

A fantastic, energizing and exciting book about what it means to really change peoples' minds – how, on an individual, institutional and societal scale, new ideas take hold; and what can and should be done about the proliferation of conspiracies and hate. Giridharadas offers series of case studies of remarkable "persuaders" – people who are doing hard work to change minds at every level.

XII. A Spectre, Haunting by China Miéville

The cover for China Mieville's 'A Spectre, Haunting.'

Billed as an “introduction” to The Communist Manifesto — though it is substantially longer than the work itself — it is brilliant, even dazzling. Miéville sets out to prove that the Manifesto is no historical curiosity — that it remains relevant today, not merely as a foil for arguments about Marxism’s role in previous struggles but as a vital guide to present-day ones.

XIII. Tracers in the Dark by Andy Greenberg

The cover for Andy Greenberg's 'Tracers in the Dark.'

A fascinating, horrifying, and complicated story of the battle over Bitcoin secrecy, as law enforcement agencies, tax authorities and private-sector sleuths seek to trace and attribute the cryptocurrency used in a variety of crimes, some relatively benign (selling weed online), some absolutely ghastly (selling videos of child sex abuse). In theory, if you are careful about not linking a wallet address to your real identity, then your transactions are not traceable to you. In practice, this is really, really, really hard.


Before I go, I'll note here that I have two books scheduled for 2023:

I. Red Team Blues (Tor/Head of Zeus, April 2023)

The cover for my novel 'Red Team Blues.'

A grabby next-Tuesday thriller about cryptocurrency shenanigans that will awaken you to how the world really works. Martin Hench is 67 years old, single, and successful in a career stretching back to the beginnings of Silicon Valley. He's a—contain your excitement—self-employed forensic accountant, a veteran of the long guerilla war between people who want to hide money, and people who want to find it. Now he’s been roped into a job that’s more dangerous than anything he’s ever agreed to before—and it will take every ounce of his skill to get out alive.

II. The Internet Con: Seize the Means of Computation (Verso, Sept 2023)

This isn't a book for people who want to fix Big Tech. It's a detailed disassembly manual for people who want to dismantle it. Interoperability is how we seize the means of computation, putting control over tech into tech users' hands. Enshrining new protections for reverse-engineers, tinkerers, co-ops, nonprofits and startups will fundamentally alter the politics and economics of tech monopolies, weakening them and hastening the day that regulators break them up so they no longer present a threat to society.

(Image: Matthew Petroff, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago US government tells UK that the US can legally kidnap Britons

#10yrsago Dairy farmer protests hose down EU and cops with milk

#5yrsago The DoJ is going to make Shkreli sell off his unreleased Wu-Tang and Lil Wayne albums, his Picasso and his Enigma machine

#5yrsago #Elsagate: a subreddit that’s sleuthing out the weird videos of Youtube Kids<?a>

#5yrsago Jeremy Corbyn to Morgan Stanley: you’re goddamned right we’re a threat to you

#1yrago Fintech is a scam, a listicle in eight parts

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. (92849 words total) – ON PAUSE

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EXPERT REVIEW

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FINAL DRAFT COMPLETE

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Sound Money

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Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

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