The year started being super uncertain but massively promising at work - a quarter into the launch of CENTAURI 10Gbps (one of the world's fastest wireless technology) we had all these people knocking at our doors to test out this technology across South East Asia. The team was expanding, we had new markets to look at to the West of Singapore, we decided to run the biggest tech experiment we have run in Transcelestial's history, the stock market had begun it's nose dive, VCs were starting to publish "Default Alive" guides for companies which were basically 180 u-turn of the advice going out during/before COVID and it was starting to look like that 5-day work week in offices would never come back.
Amidst all of that I set a challenge of reading more than 24 books from 2021! While it has happened in bursts, but eventually I ended 2022 with 33 amazing books (+ a few from the past that I re-read)! Some are covered below - mix of science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction. Previous reading recommendations can be found here.
My more comprehensive reading updates and forward looking pipeline of books can be found on my Goodreads.
Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
Recently I attended a talk by Ted Chiang at Singapore Writers Festival on Time Travel in Fiction and Physics. Very few people know that the movie Arrival is adapted from Story of Your Life. The story follows a letter written by a mom to her daughter, chronicling her life and her work identifying the spoken and written language of aliens visiting Earth. Highly recommend reading it even if you have seen the movie. The anthology contains a few other of his stories - my other favorite story being Tower of Babylon. OH! quick recommendation related to the movie Arrival - highly recommend reading Stephen Wolfram's blog post on how he (was the tech advisor for the movie) came up with the visual representation of the alien language using Mathematica.
Cosmos by Carl Sagan
I first saw the TV show and was introduced to it like most people in my generation - a YouTube video of Carl talking about Cosmic insignificance and the journey we are about to embark on as a galactic civlization. It still brings me chills and inspiration like no other video every time I watch it. The book is mainly following a decade of discoveries in space - the First lander to Mars, the First mission to Venus, the Launch of both Voyager probes (they had reached Saturn), LEO Space Stations, the First Black Hole identification (Cygnus X-1) and many others. This book was a primer charting the growth of scientific reasoning and the rise of astronomy to our current day and age. I remembered picking up the book in high school and giving up after two pages - I had just finished the Brief History of Time and this seems too basic in technical comparison. Picking it up as an adult, I noticed the awe of the unbound universe and the frustration of being stuck on a single planet, both come out in equal parts by the author. Something I could 100% relate to. Every page is quotable. Carl's reasoning is very "first principles" and he is a master prose writer as well as an educator. It is a must-read even if you are not moved by the heavens when you look up at the night sky.
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K Le Guin
This is Book #2 in the Earthsea series which I first recommended in my Summer Reading 2021 post. This was the first time I read a strong portrayal of a Hero's Journey from a female perspective. Tenar, the protagonist, is a young woman chosen as the high priestess of the Tombs of Atuan, a sacred site filled with ancient relics and artefacts of the Old Gods. However, as Tenar navigates the expectations and demands of her religion, she meets someone (it's identity is a huge spoiler!) who challenges her beliefs and helps her discover her true identity. The story is a powerful and thought-provoking tale of self-discovery and the complexities of religion. Classic UKLG! In some sense, this is a mirror to Ged/Sparrowhawk's journey in the first book.
The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
This has been the highest-value book on genetics that I have ever read. I struggle a LOT with non-fiction books because they can usually be 30% shorter and still convey everything. This book is not. You will follow the world through Siddhartha's eyes learning how most extraordinary people are built through personal circumstances. It broadly covers the history, the science, the advancements and many many "so THAT's how traits and diseases are passed down" moments. Also finally I understood why The Human Genome Project was a massive let-down in its original goal of providing 1-1 mapping of physical/mental traits to DNA. It left me with a deeper understanding of the power and potential of genetics and the ethical dilemmas we MUST navigate as we continue to push the boundaries of what is possible through understanding and editing our code.
Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer
(mild spoilers!) My favourite non-famous book to recommend to gamers looking for science fiction reads! The premise is super simple - a hacker finds that the world is a simulation by discovering the properties file. He does the first thing anyone would - make yourself rich! Untraceable riches alert the authorities and do the only next thing possible - time travel and hide in the past when you can do tricks as a magician. Humour elevates the entire prose from start to the end of this book. I still remember all the major characters and their arcs - this book is THAT good! Sub-recommendation - listen to the audiobook! Luke Daniels is phenomenal in his voice acting and I was laughing until my sides hurt.
Blankets by Craig Thompson
It made me cry. One of the most beautiful coming of age story I have ever read. I bought this as a gift for many friends who wanted to get into graphic novels and are looking for their first read. This chronicles the journey of the author through his childhood to adulthood. The backdrop of the journey is Raina - his first true love. Girls are way more mature than guys of the same age (mostly) - and this captures it beautifully. It also portrays very realistically the love-hate relationship brothers share growing up and how parents are seen from a very different lens when you are younger vs older. This MUST be turned into an animated (not live-action) movie!
Space and Time: Minkowski's papers on relativity by Hermann Minkowski
Bought this a few years back. Few pages in realized I needed to massively level up on Tensors to understand anything at all. Minkowski died early and was Einstein's math teacher at ETH. After Einstein rolled out Special Relativity in his "miraculous year" of 1905 (I have talked more on that here), Minkowski developed the four-dimensional spacetime concept - which Einstein and various physicist use today to treat 3-dimensions of space and 1-dimension of time as not separate but a single 4-dimensional entity. This formulation of 4-dimensional Minkowski Space led to Einstein's research into the Equivalence Principle which led to the full theory of General Relativity. This is the first time Minkowski's actual papers have been translated into English in this book. Must read!