Reviews of books read last month: two collections of short stories, two science fiction novels, a book about the impact of noise on history, and a book about creativity. 1. "Into the War" by Italo Calvino <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/493434.L_entrata_in_guerra> This is a collection of three of the author's early short stories. The protagonists are mostly youths living in northern Italy during WW2, something the author experienced himself. There's building tension between supporters of the government and its war, and those who are less convinced. Either way, everyone tries to live their lives as best they can. These stories show many of the traits of Calvino's writing style that I've admired in his later, major works: clarity, humour and intelligence. 2. "Solaris" by Stanislaw Lem <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/95558.Solaris> <http://www.amazon.com/Solaris/dp/0156027607> Kris Kelvin has just arrived at a space station in orbit around the planet Solaris. There are signs of an unusual intelligence in the planet's ocean, which has triggered much debate back on Earth in the decades since Solaris was discovered. But, instead of encountering the aliens directly, it appears that whatever life exists on the planet is choosing to "make contact" by making manifest the memories, dreams and fears of the visitors. This story gets quite philosophical and psychological at times about sentience and life. It's been made into movies, firstly by Tarkovsky in the USSR, and more recently by Hollywood. Not an easy book to read, but definitely thought-provoking. 3. "More Tales of the Unexpected" by Roald Dahl <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/183381.More_Tales_Of_The_Unexpected> <http://www.amazon.com/More-Tales-Unexpected/dp/0140056068> While the author is mostly known for his novels aimed at children, he also wrote many short stories with a twist for older audiences. This collection is a bit uneven, but still delivers good entertainment value. If you haven't read them already, try the original "Tales of the Unexpected" collection first. 4. "Gathering Blue" by Lois Lowry <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12936.Gathering_Blue> <http://www.amazon.com/Gathering-Blue/dp/0547904142> This short novel is set in a post-apocalyptic future where technology is primitive. Kira is a crippled teenage girl with a talent for weaving and embroidery. Having already lost her father, her future becomes shaky when her mother dies. Everyone is struggling to survive, and there's not a lot of sentimentality in the village. Normally, those who can't fend for themselves are cast out. But Kira's talent saves her, and she is taken in by one of the village leaders. At her new home, she finds another adoptee, Thomas, a talented carver who also lost his parents. However, there is something sinister about their village leadership and its plans for Kira, Thomas and other talented orphans. This type of story seems popular these days (e.g. "The Hunger Games"). The author's earlier novella, "The Giver", will be released as a movie this year. 5. "Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening" by David Hendy <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17213951-noise?> <http://www.amazon.com/Noise/dp/0062283073> This is a companion book to a BBC Radio 4 series about the history of sound and its importance to civilisation. It covers many aspects of sound and noise, from cave dwellers to the 21st century. The world is a noisy place, and the sounds of speech, music, machinery, weaponry, bells and nature can all touch, affect and even control us. According to the author: "In a very real sense, being within earshot of a sound was what made you a citizen or subject. With radio, the distances involved were dramatically transformed". Improved communications technology helps keep people in touch, but has a downside of making the spread of propaganda easier. 6. "Creativity, Inc." by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18077903-creativity-inc> <http://www.amazon.com/Creativity-Inc/dp/0812993012> Written by a founder and executive of Pixar Animation (one of Steve Jobs's other tech startups), this book provides advice on how to foster creativity in the workplace. Catmull draws on his somewhat accidental 30 year career as an animation studio chief executive. In the conclusion he argues: "Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear. Doing all these things won't necessarily make the job of managing a creative culture easier. But ease isn't the goal; excellence is." This is not the typical business book, and much of the advice extends to anyone who wants to work in a creative environment. In a touching afterword, he provides a personal view of the Steve Jobs he knew and worked with for three decades.