I've been a bit lazy about book reviews this month, mostly because I've been on vacation. But then that vacation ended a week ago, and I'm just now posting updates on BookLikes. Clearly, a vacation extends laziness to some degree.
Since I waited too long, I've forgotten some of what I thought about what I read, especially due to the fact that I've moved on to other books and sundry entertainments. I actually finished Mary Beard's S.P.Q.R. shortly before going on vacation. It's a history of ancient Rome from its foundation to 212 AD (the date when the emperor Caracalla made all inhabitants of the empire Roman citizens). So, perhaps the biggest theme of the book is what it means to be Roman, citizenship included. It's an interesting history book, organized in a mix between chronological and thematic, and written in a snappy style that happens to be engaging. I myself have a degree in Classical Studies, so most of the information was not new to me, but I enjoyed reading Professor Beard's writing, and the perspectives she brings are refreshing.
During my vacation I read and finished Solaris Rising, a sci-fi anthology edited by Ian Whates. I would rank it as "middling" when compared to other fiction anthologies I've read (and, since I went through an intense short-story phase for many years, I have read a number of short-fiction anthologies and magazines!). There is an interesting running theme of "story", whether it's the stories we write about fictional characters or the stories we write about ourselves. There are a couple of stories about science-fiction authors (yes, they are "meta"), and there is a rather striking story by Alastair Reynolds ("For the Ages") about writing the story of the universe (no exaggeration). Another stand-out story, by Lavie Tidhar, pieces together newspaper and magazine items (whether fictional or not, I never did find out) alongside some traditional prose fiction, to write a secret history (never-before-told story!) about Che Guevara. Other stories that stick in my memory for being good: "The Incredible Exploding Man" by Dave Hutchinson; "A Smart, Well-Mannered Uprising of the Dead" by Ian McDonald; and "Sweet Spots" by Paul DiFilippo. The others were mostly unremarkable, although some were good reads.
Next up: Well, I'm in the middle of a Star Trek: Titan book, Synthesis, by James Swallow. It's really good so far, just like Swallow's other Trek book that I've read (The Latter Fire). On the non-fiction history side of things, I'm reading Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals, by Dominic Lieven -- a well-considered enquiry into the various historical ideas about Empire.