After a lengthy hiatus, I'm going to reboot the B-List with a series of posts listing some of my personal entertainment highlights of 2015. First up, books. 1. Fiction In retrospect, 2015 turned out to be a resurgence of quality speculative/science fiction for me. Twenty of the 53 novels I read last year were broadly-speaking sci-fi, and eight of those made it into my ten favourites. * "The Three-Body Problem" by Cixin Liu <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20518872-the-three-body-problem> Lots of interesting ideas: astronomy, mind-bending physics, some information theory and contact with an alien civilisation. All this starting with the Chinese Cultural Revolution as a historical prologue. It's the first book in a trilogy, and after the initial contact produces an unexpected response, humanity is left with a long and anxious wait for the arrival of the alien fleet. * "The Martian" by Andy Weir <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18007564-the-martian> When a mission to Mars goes wrong, the crew is ordered to evacuate and leave behind a critically injured astronaut. He survives and has access to food and other supplies, but faces a long wait until the next scheduled mission. There's lots of detailed science-based problem solving, with dashes of humour as he deals with a hostile environment. * "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/334176.The_Sparrow> Astronomers discover what appears to be evidence of intelligent life on a planet orbiting a nearby star. With the help of its financial and scientific supporters, the Jesuits beat the rest of the world in launching an exploratory mission. When they get there, they struggle to reconcile their humanity and faith with the realities of the alien societies they encounter. * "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus" by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18490.Frankenstein> This is a classic, and arguably the first modern science fiction story. It holds up well, despite being written almost 200 years ago. * "Narcissus and Goldmund" by Hermann Hesse <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5954.Narcissus_and_Goldmund> This novel describes contrasting life journeys of two former residents of a monastery in Medieval Germany. Narcissus is a dedicated and knowledgable monk who devotes his life to teaching. Goldmund is a former pupil who abandons monastic life in search of passion and adventure. Weighty themes are covered, such as true friendship, discipline, and finding one's life purpose and meaning. * "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18373.Flowers_for_Algernon> After successfully increasing the intelligence of a mouse (Algernon), scientists experiment on a mentally challenged man in an attempt to make him "normal". Early results are encouraging, and the beneficial effects of the treatment continue. Soon Charlie's IQ goes beyond genius level. He also starts remembering and understanding his childhood for the first time. Old relationships are re-evaluated and new ones develop. But when Algernon's condition unexpectedly deteriorates, Charlie fears the worst. * "A Hero of Our Time" by Mikhail Lermontov <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/226378.A_Hero_of_Our_Time> A classic from one of the pioneers of Russian Romanticism. The adventures and stories of a not-so-loveable rogue, recounting abduction, drunkenness, cheating and duelling in and around the Caucasus during the 1800s. * "Ancillary Justice" by Ann Leckie <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17333324-ancillary-justice> Following an act of treason destroys a starship, the artificial intelligence controlling that vessel inhabits one of the soldiers in its crew (Breq). S/he (gender is neutral in this advanced culture) joins with other survivors and tries to find those responsible, and uncovers a plot to overthrow the Radch Empire. First instalment of a trilogy, the followup wasn't as impressive. Hopefully the concluding book is better. * "Annihilation" by Jeff VanderMeer <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17934530-annihilation> Area X has long been isolated from the rest of civilisation. Many expeditions have been sent there, but few of participants return. Those who do return suffer fatal mental or physical problems. The latest expedition is sent with the names of the members intentionally suppressed. They refer to each other only by their roles. Will this help them deal with the psychological challenges of the mission? Also the start of trilogy, but I didn't find the remaining two books as satisfying. * "The Water Knife" by Paolo Bacigalupi <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23209924-the-water-knife> In the near future, access to water in south-western USA becomes a legal and political minefield, attracting criminals. When various interested parties get wind of a "game-changing" document in Phoenix, ruthless types converge on the surrounding area, endangering the lives of its struggling and unsuspecting inhabitants. Another competent eco-thriller from the author. See Goodreads for ratings. 2. Non-fiction Last year wasn't such a memorable year for non-fiction: of the sixteen books read, only a few left a lasting impression. * "Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/66321.Finding_Flow> This book argues that by doing something challenging yet achievable given your skills and ability, you can attain a state of mind which leaves you fully engaged. More than mere happiness, consistently entering this "flow" state when working, playing and engaged in other activities provides a sense of fulfillment. The author uses extensive real-world studies to support his case. * "Collection of Sand" by Italo Calvino <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18222747-collection-of-sand> This is a collection of essays and articles on a wide-range of topics. Calvino is my favourite Italian author, and he always manages to find interesting angles and observations on any subject, from Japanese gardens and temples, to the collection of sand referred to in the title. * "How to Find Fulfilling Work" by Roman Krznaric <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14059030-how-to-find-fulfilling-work> Perhaps unsurprisingly, most people hate their job. Since we spend arguably the best hours of our weekdays at work, you'd think it would be worth spending a bit of time trying to find a job we actually like doing. This book aims to help readers do that. * "Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep" by David K. Randall <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13629711-dreamland> This book looks at another activity which occupies about a third of our lives: sleep. It features research studies and anecdotes, covering the various stages of sleep, historical references, sleep-related conditions. A couple of controversial findings: "high-quality" mattresses don't materially improve sleep, and sleeping alone apparently does. See Goodreads for ratings.