What I read in 2024

6/18 He Xi, Life Does Not Allow Us to Meet (tr. Alex Woodend)

One of the nominees for the 2024 Best Novella Hugo, first published in English in the anthology Adventures in Space (Short stories by Chinese and English Science Fiction writers). Parts of it read to me like a response to Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem and sequels, although possibly that's an illusion caused by the fact that I've read so little Chinese science fiction. For all I know, maybe these themes are and have been common, and I'm just associating them with Liu because that's who I've read.

I didn't like Life Does Not Allow Us to Meet very much: I found it infodump-heavy, disjointed, and clumsily written. Either my taste is very different from that of Chinese science fiction fans and editors, or else the translator did this novella a disservice.

6/17 Wang Jinkang, Seeds of Mercury (tr. Alex Woodend)

It begins in the mid 21st century when a businessman receives an unexpected inheritance from an aunt he barely knew, and it soon becomes obvious that it's less about money than about science, specifically about nanotechnology and artificial life. One of the nominees for the 2024 Best Novella Hugo. I'm afraid I found it pretty dry and didactic.

6/16 Moniquill Blackgoose, To Shape a Dragon's Breath

The front matter begins with an unfamiliar version of the periodic table and an unfamiliar map of the world: the shapes of the continents are the ones we're used to but the names are different, ones like Tyskland and Norsland and Kindah. This book takes place in what we would call New England. What it's called in the story depends on whom you ask. The main character, a fifteen year old girl named Anequs, would say that she's from the island of Masquapaug. The Anglish, on the other hand, call it Mask, part of Lindmarden, under the rule of Jarl Leiknir Joersarsson and ultimately the high king.

The book begins when Anequs sees a dragon, the first indigenous dragon that anyone on Masquapaug has seen in generations, and later finds the dragon's egg. Naturally the hatchling chooses Anequs as companion, and naturally, partly because of Anglish law and partly becuase nobody on Masquapaug still knows the things Anequs needs to learn to be a dragon's Nampeshiweisit, Anequs heads off to a boarding school in Vastergot where she can learn essential subjects like al-jabr, anglereckoning, skiltakraft, and dragon husbandry. Not everyone in the school, or in Vastergot, is happy to see her there, and even the well-meaning ones see her as an unfortunate primitive who ought to be pleased to learn how to belong to the civilized world.

This book is in part about heavy issues involving power, inequality, and dispossession of indigenous peoples, and the rise of fascism, but parts of it are just about having a fun invented world. As with Poul Anderson's “Uncleftish Beholding,” it's fun seeing an alternate history where most of the technical language comes from Germanic roots rather than Latin ones.

YA fantasy, and one of the finalists for the 2024 Lodestar. It's obviously the first book of a planned series.

6/11 Malka Older, The Mimicking of Known Successes

A mystery story: a University don has disappeared in circumstances that strongly suggest suicide, but there's no body and there's no explanation for why he would have done any such thing. The story is set in humanity's home in exile after Earth has become uninhabitable, the rings and platforms high up in the Jovian atmosphere. The setting is constructed to give it a strong late-Victorian vibe, with gaslamps, telegrams instead of cellphones, and lots of traincars. This is only fitting, since the two main characters are obviously inspired by Holmes and Watson.

It's a fun story, and one of the finalists for the 2024 Best Novella Hugo, but you definitely have to suspend your disbelief about the setting and the premise. Building solid metal rings around Jupiter? Really? And even more important: no matter how thoroughly we wreck Earth, it's very hard to believe we could do anything to this planet that would make the Moon or Mars or Jupiter look welcoming by comparison.

6/9 T. Kingfisher, Thorn Hedge

An alternative version of the Sleeping Beauty story. The author describes it as a sweet story and expects that people will find that surprising given some of the very not-sweet events in it, but she's right. One of the finalists for the 2024 Best Novella Hugo.

6/7 P. Djèlí Clark, Abeni's Song

YA fantasy, one of the finalists for the 2024 Lodestar award, set in some unspecified time and place in Africa. Parts of it are reminiscent of familiar European fairy tales, others less so. It's similar to one of the author's other books, Ring Shout, in that it gives us a different view of real evils from our world by envisioning them as supernatural evils.

The sequel, Abeni and the Kingdom of Gold, is scheduled for next year. I don't know if the author is planning a duology or something longer.

6/2 Nghi Vo, Mammoths at the Gates

Mammoths from the mammoth corps at the gates of Singing Hills Abbey, that is, where Cleric Chih has temporarily returned home from their travels. Not an attack, probably, but certainly a confrontation of sorts, involving the death of a senior cleric and multiple stories from and about their life.

5/30 Nghi Vo, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

“Why are we talking to tigers?” asked Si-Yu.
“Because they are talking to us,” Chih said, stifling a somewhat hysterical giggle. “They can talk, and now they've seen that we can. That's—that means that they'll treat us like people.”
“But there's still a chance that they're going to eat us.”
“Oh yes. Some people are just more… edible than others if you are a tiger.”

5/30 Kelly and Zach Weinersmith, A City on Mars

The subtitle is Can We Settle Space, Should We Settle Space, and Have We Really Thought This Through? Not exactly a spoiler: the answer is no. It's an informative book, including some of the obvious questions like orbital mechanics, space babies (not a good idea, although we don't yet know exactly how bad an idea it is), and where the water comes from, and some of the less obvious questions like international law.

If you're like most of the nonexperts we talked to as we researched this book, you might have some ideas about space settlement that aren't quite right. We don't blame you—the public discourse around space settlement is full of myths, fantasies, and outright misunderstandings of basic facts.

Informative and entertaining, and yes, I'm convinced that we're not going to have a city on Mars any time soon. The cover has blurbs from people like James S. A. Corey, Andy Weir, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Mary Roach, and it deserves them.

5/29 Chris Ferrie, What You Shouldn't Know About Quantum Computers

A short and largely nontechnical book. The focus, as the title suggests, is dispelling widely believed misconceptions about quantum computers. Chapter titles include “Myth 1: Nobody Understands This Quantum Stuff,” “Myth 3: Quantum Computers Try All Solutions At Once,” and “Myth 7: Quantum Computing Is Impossible.”

5/25 Shannon Chakraborty, The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi

One of the Best Novel finalists for the 2024 Hugo, a historical fantasy set in the 12th century in Aden, Mogadishu, Socotra, and other points in and around the Indian Ocean. It's the adventures of Amina al-Sirafi late in her life. In her youth Amina was one of the most notorious pirate captains of her age, she retired years ago and started a quiet and anonymous and more or less law abiding life raising her daughter, and a rich noblewoman tracks her down and persuades her to come out of retirement for one last job: rescuing her granddaughter from a Frankish mercenary. Naturally the client isn't telling Amina everything, and naturally the job turns out to have more repercussions than either of them expected.

It was a life of banditry born out of tragedy, yes. But in choosing it, I had destroyed any hope of future respectability and was happy for it. Why not wear stolen pearls and a sailor's loincloth? Marry an oarsman I barely knew because he was achingly handsome and I wanted to fuck him? Drink stolen wine meant for a sultan across the world and fight duels at midnight?
Well. There were a great many reasons I should not have done those things, no longer did those things, and wince when I pray for forgiveness from the only One whose compassion is that encompassing. But as I ran my fingers over a crimson robe embroidered with clashing green sunbursts, the sweeter moments returned to me. The cloth still smelled of sea salt and oil, recalling coir ropes glistening with ocean spray, black bitumen-painted hulls, and the melodies of sailors against the beat of a barrel drum.

5/22 Ellery Queen, The Chinese Orange Mystery

A relatively early Ellery Queen novel, published in 1934. This is detective fiction as logic puzzle; the characters are barely characters.

5/19 Nico Josuttis, C++20: The Complete Guide

It isn't really a complete guide to C++20: it's a complete guide to the delta between C++17 and C++20. But that's quite enough: C++20 was a major revision to the language. The book is 700 pages long, and it's not padded. C++20 introduced major features like concepts, ranges, coroutines, and modules, and a ton of minor but nice features like jthread, format, and the spaceship operator.

Coroutines take up a noticeable fraction of the book, but I still wish that part had been longer. This book doesn't get into the really important questions: what real-world problems coroutines are useful for; best practices for using coroutines to solve those problems; what mental model you should have for the relationship between promise types, coroutines handles, coroutine interfaces, and the coroutine itself; why C++20 coroutines were designed the way they were.

5/16 Margery Allingham, Look to the Lady

The third Albert Campion mystery, originally published 1931. It reads to me more like a thriller than a detective story. This time it's about art theft. Like the first two books, it includes an international gang of super-crooks.

5/14 Charlie Jane Anders, Promises Stronger than Darkness

The third book of the Unstoppable YA space fantasy trilogy, and a finalist for the Locus and Lodestar awards.

The second book ended on rather a low point, as second books of trilogies often do. At the beginning of Promises Stronger than Darkness the space fascists have taken over the government, the main characters have discovered that there's something even worse than the ancient curse they faced in the first book and that all of the galaxy's inhabited worlds are about to be destroyed, and the main character is sort of dead. Things get better, although not immediately.

5/6 Vajra Chandrasekera, The Saint of Bright Doors

A secondary-world fantasy, and one of the Best Novel finalists for the 2024 Hugo. The first chapter begins when the main character is a child, tutored in magic and murder and raised as a weapon for his mother's plan of revenge. You do have to sort of admire someone who's hard-core enough about revenge against a religious sect that her plan involves teaching her son to commit all of the religion's major unforgiveables, beginning with matricide.

Most of the book takes place when the main character is a young adult in a foreign modern city, complete with cellphones and bureaucracy and race science and dating apps. The main character isn't the only one in the city with a strange mystical destiny that may or may really be his: “There's a support group for unchosen ones, which was recomended to him by the therapist he's been seeing ever since he learned what a therapist was.”

My favorite part of the book was probably the nightmarish prison sequence, which reads like a mixture of Kafka and Banks.

4/30 Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya (tr. Marian Fell)

Al got to see the new Broadway production of Uncle Vanya. I didn't, alas (a fact that makes me very envious), but at least it inspired me to reread the play.

4/25 Martha Wells, Witch King

One of the Best Novel finalists for the 2024 Hugo. These days Martha Wells is best known as the author of the Murderbot stories, but in fact most of her published fiction has been fantasy. This is her first fantasy novel in a while; as far as I can tell it's a standalone, unrelated to any of her previous series. We gradually learn that the book is about rebuilding the world after a terrible war; the invaders were defeated, but that's not the end even generations later. The dual timeline is interesting, as is the treatment of gender.

Unless I missed it somewhere, there's an odd omission: as far as I could tell we never learn why the main character is known as Witch King given that he's neither a witch nor a king.

4/16 Naomi Kritzer, Liberty's Daughter

One of the nominees for the 2024 Lodestar Award, the not-a-Hugo award for best YA novel. The main character is a 16 year old girl growing up on a seasteading community that has somehow managed to survive for 40 years, despite libertarians not being the best at cooperation or keeping infrastructure running. One of the interesting things about it is that although both the community and the main character's father are horrible, neither of them are completely devoid of positives and the main character has mixed feelings about both.

I thought this would be a bit like a noir novel, where the equivalent of a detective is given what appears to be a minor missing person case and it ends up having far-reaching repercussions that expose corruption in the society as a whole. That sort of happens, but it's just a small part of the book. Most of it is about something else.

4/15 Gabriel García Márquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold (tr. Gregory Rabassa)

It's told in an interestingly distanced way, written some decades after the murder, and told by a narrator who I think is never named. The story is nonlinear, sometimes tightly focused on the minutest events of Santiago Nasar's last day and sometimes pulling back to refer to the intervening time. Partly it's about the absurdity of an honor killing, partly it's an indictment, partly it's about the impossibility of understanding the past no matter how many details one establishes.

The first sentence reminded me of the first sentence of One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I was amused to see a brief mention of Colonal Aureliano Buendía.

4/12 David D. Levine, The Kuiper Belt Job

Just as one would expect from the title, it's a heist novel in outer space. Most of it takes place in the Belt and the Jovian moons, but yes, we do indeed get to the Kuiper. All of the characters are con artists or thugs or thieves or criminals of some other flavor, of course, and it takes a while to figure out who's conning whom. It ends up being a little more serious than your average caper novel.

It's a finished story but it appears to be the the first in a series. I'll read the other ones once David writes them!

4/7 Dorothy Dunnett, Checkmate

The last book of the Lymond Chronicles. We know from history that Ivan the Terrible's voevode wasn't Francis Crawford of Lymond or M. le comte François de Sevigny, so the question isn't whether Lymond will fail in his attempt to return to Muscovy, but how he fails. And then of course there's the deeper question of just why he's so desperate to leave Europe, why he doesn't want to go back to Scotland ever again, why he and his wife (unlikely as it seems that such a person exists) are so determined to annul their marriage.

Most of this book is set during the Italian War of 1551–59. It ends just before the peace treaty and the political marriage that's featured in the Fontainebleau scene at the beginning of Don Carlos.

3/31 John Scalzi, Starter Villain

In which Charlie Fitzer's rich uncle dies and Charlie inherits his villain business, complete with volcano lair. It's a light quick read, and one of the 2024 Hugo nominees for best novel.

3/30 Marc Peter Deisenroth, A. Aldo Faisal, and Cheng Soon Ong, Mathematics for Machine Learning

Linear algebra, vector calculus, Bayesian probability, optimization, and application to some machine learning problems, such as linear regression, Principal Component Analysis, and Support Vector Machines. It doesn't get into deep learning, but it does cover all of the mathematics required for understanding backprop.

Mathematics for Machine Learning is published by Cambridge University Press and is also freely available on https://mml-book.com, where the authors seem to be keeping it continuously updated. The version I read had the timestamp 2024-01-15.

3/24 Shu Okimoto and Tadashi Agi, Drops of God: Mariage 1 (tr. Robert Harkins)

Mariage is a French word that's exactly the cognate it sounds like, and it's also used, not just in France, for food/wine pairings. Most of this book is about Shizuku helping the owners of a wine-focused izakaya with their pairings.

The Drops of God ended with a 6-6 tie, and with Shizuku planning to travel abroad to deepen his understanding of wine. Drops of God: Mariage begins a year later, with Shizuku back in Japan and with the events of the last year only hinted at. There's no mention of the next phase of the contest, or any of the continuing characters other than Shizuku, until the very end.

3/23 Vernor Vinge, Marooned in Realtime

Among other things it's a mystery story: the famous detective W. W. Brierson is hired by Marta Korolev's widow to find her murderer. There's a second and bigger mystery in the background: the Extinction. Something unknown happened some time in the 23rd century, fifty million years ago, that ended human civilization. The only people remaining were the ones who happened to be in stasis at the time. Stasis means one-way time travel, intentional or otherwise, and the Korolevs have been rescuing those few survivors scattered across time. They've finally managed to assemble just barely enough people that, if all goes well, it might be possible to restart a viable species and to start a new civilization fifty million years after the end of the first one. Perhaps the two mysteries are linked. Perhaps someone, or something, wants the Korolevs to fail.

Marooned in Realtime was a relatively early Vinge novel, published in 1986. It didn't win a Hugo, unlike three of his later books, and it's probably not his best. It's always been the one that's resonated with me the most and that I've reread most often, though, perhaps because I happened to read it at the right time. The parts that stuck with me the most are the conversations about the past between Brierson and his chief suspects, the handful of advanced travelers who left civilization decades after him: Della Lu's stories of what she was looking for on her fifty megayears of interstellar exploration, Yelén Korolev's explanations of what she and Marta were trying to do, Tunç Blumenthal's reminiscences of the wonders of his life in the early 23rd century before an industrial accident flung him into the far future, what a single year of progress meant by 2209.

This book is the only depiction I've ever seen of a libertarian utopia that didn't come across to me as a hellhole. Perhaps the key is the same thing Vinge observed about writing convincingly about superintelligence, which also comes up in this novel: it helps if it's indirect or secondhand, rather than trying to depict the unimaginable. This is also the first book I read that engages with deep time, a world with plausible new species and mountain ranges and continents.

And of course this book is where I first heard of the Singularity, a word that Vinge first used in this sense just a few years before he wrote Marooned in Realtime, in his now-famous 1983 Omni piece.

3/20 Dorothy Dunnett, The Ringed Castle

Lymond is a wreck at the end of Pawn in Frankincense, and he's a wreck for most of The Ringed Castle. His version of being a wreck, of course, is throwing himself into an impossible task with frightening competence and alienating everyone who wants to be close to him. Part of this book is set in the palaces of Queen Mary (not to be confused with Mary Queen of Scots, or her mother the Dowager Queen Mary de Guise) and King Philip (king of Naples and Sicily in his own right, king of England by marriage, and king of Spain by the end of the book). Even more of it is set in Muscovy, where Lymond is helping the powerful and erratic Tsar Ivan IV build the foundations of a new Russia. Lymond plays chess in this book too, this time with Ivan the Terrible.

Lymond meets a number of powerful and enigmatic characters, both real and fictional, including Mary's closely watched sister Elizabeth, the explorer Richard Chancellor, Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, and the mathematician and astrologer and wizard John Dee. He learns the familiar lesson, that prophecies don't always come true in the obvious way.

Fyodor Ivanovich is an infant by the end of the book, and Philip's son is a preadolescent. Naturally I had to listen to Boris Godunov and Don Carlos while reading this book.

3/11 Dorothy Dunnett, Pawn in Frankincense

None of this book takes place in Scotland. It begins in Baden and then the rest of it takes place in the Mediterranean: Francis Crawford of Lymond and Sevigny in his public persona is a special envoy conveying a royal present from the King of France to the Sultan. In his private persona he's on the track of the enemy who was defeated but not killed at the end of The Disorderly Knights, and of a baby who might be Lymond's son. The journey includes Lyons, Algiers, Aleppo, Chios, and Constantinople, even the seraglio of Suleiman the Magnificent himself. There's a literal chess game in this book, not just the figurative one of the title, albeit with unusual rules.

It occurred to me that you get some spoilers for these books just from knowing that they are historical novels and that Dunnett was careful not to change the major events of history. The identities of people like the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John after the death of Juan de Homedes, or the grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire, or the French ambassador to the Sublime Porte, are recorded facts. Even if one can't name any of those people, just the fact that they're historical figures, rather than fictional characters, is enough to know something about the possible trajectories of the novels' fictional heroes and villains.

3/1 Dorothy Dunnett, The Disorderly Knights

I was confused when I started this book. It seems to begin during the war between England and Scotland, and I thought the war ended in the previous book, Queens' Play. The chapter headings have dates, though! The first two chapters are set in 1548–9 and chapter 3 starts in 1551. All of Queens' Play takes place in between chapters 2 and 3. That's when the war ends, and when Francis Crawford of Lymond loses the title he had in the first book, Master of Culter, and gains a new one, Comte de Sevigny, and becomes a person of political importance in both Scotland and France.

The knights of the title are the Noble Order of Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta. Some of The Disorderly Knights takes place in Scotland and a bit in France, but about half of it is set in the Mediterranean, and the characters include the forces of the Emperor and the Sultan. Some of the Hospitallers are hoping to recruit Lymond to their order as a warrior monk, some of the factions in the French court find it to their advantage for Lymond to be absent for a time; Lymond has reasons of his own for going to Malta, which is expected to soon be attacked by a huge Ottoman force.

Naturally I had to rewatch The Maltese Falcon, which begins just a few years before this book.

2/19 François Chollet, Deep Learning with Python (Second Edition)

The “with Python” part isn't really the point; almost all deep learning will involve Python in one way or another. What's really distinctive about this book is that it's a detailed explanation of how to do deep learning using TensorFlow and Keras, written by Keras's main creator. It goes all the way from basic linear algebra and gradient descent through convolutional networks, the Transformer architecture, and generative deep learning.

Deep Learning with Python glosses over a lot of the theory, but it's an excellent introduction to the practical aspects: how you use Keras to build deep networks from layers, which loss functions to use for which problems, how to recognize and avoid overfitting, when and why to use tricks like dropout layers, max pooling layers, and residual connections, when to use 16-bit floating point, how to download Kaggle datasets, how to use Colab to train your models on GPUs and TPUs. In a field that, as the author says, is still “more alchemy than science,” that's a fine tradeoff.

Recommended.

2/14 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 44

Château d'Yqem, 1976. And… That's the end.

This is the last volume of The Drops of God. It ends with a 6-6 tie between Shizuku and Issei in the Apostle battles, as most readers probably expected from the beginning, and there are hints that Yutaka expected it too. Both of the brothers are left wondering about the final battle, the “Drops of God” itself. Both of them are still wondering what Yutaka was trying to do with his will. The relationship between Shizuku and Issei is still unresolved, and the relationship between Shizuku and Miyabi is only partly resolved. The role of Loulan and Chris is still mysterious.

According to Wikipedia there's a sequel: Drops of God: Mariage (神の雫 最終章), published between 2015 and 2020. At least some of it has now been translated into English.

2/13 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 43

Both competitors think they've found the Twelfth Apostle, which is not an aged red Bordeaux. The night before the final competition, perhaps by coincidence and perhaps not, Shizuku, Issei, Loulan, and Chris all open the same wine: a 1998 Alain Robert Le Mesnil Reserve Brut.

2/12 Dorothy Dunnett, Queens' Play

The title refers to chess, as do the titles of all of the Lymond books, but it also refers literally to queens. Queens' Play begins a couple years after The Game of Kings. Mary Queen of Scots is now seven years old, living at the court of Henri II and Catherine de' Medici and engaged to the Dauphin. The Queen Dowager, Mary de Guise, is visiting her after a long absence from France. It's a period of uneasy peace between Scotland, England, and France, but both the French and Scottish courts are full of scheming factions, and the English and Irish have their own plans, and there's at least one assassination conspiracy.

Probably all of these books need to be read more than once. A lot of what's going on is unstated, and is understandable only in retrospect.

1/28 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 42

The quest for the Twelfth Apostle continues. For both competitors the theme of the passage of time, as reflected in the aged wine they're looking for, has parallels in their friends' personal lives.

1/25 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 41

The last contest has begun, the search for the Twelfth Apostle. Yutaka Kanzaki's description of the wine is intricate and seems to have something to do with the passage of time. Both competitors think they're looking for an aged wine, and Shizuku is learning what 50 year old Burgundy and Bordeaux is like.

1/24 Dorothy Dunnett, The Game of Kings

The first book of the Lymond Chronicles, a series of historical novels written in the 60s and 70s. The Game of Kings is set in mid 16th century Scotland at a time when both Scotland and England have children on the throne, the four year old Mary and the eleven year old Edward. There's perpetual low level war with a constant threat of escalation, high international politics involving all the major powers of Europe, and scheming, rebellion, and double dealing by border lords on both sides of the border. The main character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, is an excommunicated outlaw: all but convicted of treason against Scotland in absentia, mistrusted in England and France, and quick witted, erudite, enormously competent, charismatic, dangerous, and still an important political player. There are hints from early on that there's more to his supposed treason than his fellow nobles think.

I tried to read this book once before and didn't even make it through the first chapter: a friend bought it for me to read when I was recovering from heart surgery. In retrospect, a book with intricate plots and deceptions, where you have to work hard to understand what's going on and who's lying to whom, was the wrong choice of reading material when I was in pain and heavily drugged. I got a lot more out of it this time, and I'll read the next five Lymond books.

1/21 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 40

Most of this volume, which was originally published in 2013, is about Japanese wine, focusing on Taiyo Beer's wine department trying to convince executives that Japan's wineries are now good enough that consumers will be willing to buy a curated ¥14,200 gift set of three domestic wines. Apparently there are varietals used only in Japan, such as Koshu and Muscat Bailey A. Now I'm curious!

1/19 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 39

2008 Ferrer Bobet Priorat Selección Especial.

1/16 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 38

The cast of characters continues to expand, and Shizuku and Issei both return to Japan with wines that they think express the right sunset and wind.

1/14 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 37

Shizuku and Issei are both in Spain, in quest of sunsets.

1/14 Philip N. Klein, Coding the Matrix: Linear Algebra Through Computer Science Applications

Just what it sounds like: an undergrad textbook on linear algebra from a computer science point of view. It's not exactly a class in computational linear algebra, but it does define things like vector and matrices in terms of Python, it's restricted to finite-dimensional vector spaces, and it explains which algorithms do and don't make sense given the realities of floating-point numbers. For example, determinants are described only briefly and only toward the end, and the book explains why it's a bad idea to try to compute eigenvalues by numerically finding roots of det(λI - A).

I read this partly to refresh my memory and partly because, even though it's been a long time since I actually studied physics, I'm still more used to linear algebra from a physics point of view.

1/11 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 36

The Eleventh Apostle, both competitors think, is from Spain. The cast of characters expands to include the two owners of a Tokyo wine bar that specializes in Spanish wine, whose patrons are expected to take sides in their fierce Madrid/Barcelona football rivalry.

1/12 Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

This is the first time I've read anything by Anne Brontë, although I have of course read books by both of her sisters. It's structurally interesting: a good half of the book, by page count, is a story within a story: the main character reading Mrs. “Graham”'s diary.

It would have been a very different story if it had been set in a society where divorce was a thing.

1/11 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 35

The longest of the several arcs in this volume is a televised cooking and wine pairing battle between two French restaurants: the homey Ma Famille, being helped by Shizuku and Miyabi, and the underhanded Maison de Grand Cru. Reminds me that I should drink more Alsatian wine.

1/8 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 34

Robert Sirugue Grands-Échézeaux Grand Cru 2002.

1/7 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 33

Shizuku and Issei both complete their quests, and both of them return to Japan with bottles that they think are the Tenth Apostle. This volume ends just before it's revealed to the reader, except that it's a red Burgundy and it's something that's very rare and hard to obtain.

1/4 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 32

Yutaka Kanzaki's description of the Tenth Apostle is unusually enigmatic even for this contest. It includes a quote from the 10th century poet Ki no Tsurayuki, and cosmic imagery that reminds me of 2001, and concludes: “This wine is a soul. This wine is the vast land, viewed from above. This wine is the broad expanse of space. And this wine is ‘hope.’”

Both competitors find this complex and mysterious. Shizuku flies to France in the hope of gaining a deeper understanding of the complex maze of Burgundy wine, focusing on Vosne-Romanée. Issei has a more mystical approach and he flies to, of all places, Waikiki. Naturally, both of them encounter beautiful young women who speak perfect Japanese and are in urgent need of a wine consultation.

Matt Austern