Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz - Easily summed up as “Breaking Bad meets Mage: The Ascension.” Paul gains magic powers but his daughter needs expensive medical care, so he learns to make a probability-bending drug called Flex. The “child in danger and parent needs to do insane things to save them” aspect is well done, but hard for me to handle. (Steinmetz’ goddaughter died of cancer while he was writing this and clearly that had an emotional influence.) The fact that the limits of magic are never clearly defined beyond “push the world and it pushes back” (not even rough areas of expertise like Mage spheres or Fullmetal Alchemist’s individual styles) creates plot holes, but it’s clever and very vivid in its descriptions. I may look up the sequels at some point.
Hemingway Didn't Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations by Garson O'Toole - This was clearly O’Toole’s blog/hobby, that he wrapped up into book form with hopes it would make a good gimmick book. It’s clearly well-researched, but he doesn’t put and useful amusement value or “oomph” behind the entries—it’s not fun reading, like Snopes, just dry breakdowns of the histories of famous quotes. I might look to it as a reference book for a specific entry, but it’s not fun reading.
Miniatures by John Scalzi - A collection of his short fiction. He has obvious themes that he loves, mostly regarding humorous human/alien interactions and misunderstandings. These are all fun little stories that it’s just as well he didn't try to build into novels.
Final Girls by Mira Grant - An elaborate VR psychological tool can make people experience horror movies as a way of healing psychological scars. Things go terribly wrong in a new and exciting terrifying way. Novella-length and appropriately disturbing.
Split Second by Douglas E. Richards - A book for techbros, by techbros. Includes several impassioned speeches about how smart people are superior, a digression about Islamic terrorist “savages,” a magnificent showing-off of every buzzword the author knows about physics, and a single female character who constantly notes that while she’s smart, her fiancé made her look like “special needs.” Oh, and an actual main character who’s ex-military and the fastest, toughest, cleverest guy who ever did anything. Really, everybody who does anything of note in this book needs a page of explanation of why they count as a Randian Superman and are therefore allowed to accomplish things. (The author, like many hard science “smart guys” needs to stop thinking that taking Econ 101 makes you an expert on economics. Because the philosophical and economic implications of post-scarcity are much more than “we must keep this away from the masses because terrorists will make lots of enriched uranium and blow us all up.”) This is a solid contender for worst book I read this year, possibly beating out Blue Limbo.
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch by Lewis Dartnell - Did you know that a key component to building your own wind or water power source is the alternator from a car? It's the most easily-available tool for converting irregular circular motion into 12 volt DC electricity. As you would suspect, though, this book doesn’t really have step-by-step or hand-holding instructions for anything; it’s mostly just a “you can do this thing” that assumes you’ll either figure it out by trial and error or you’ll get a more detailed book. Distillation, for example, is critical to pretty much all the chemistry suggested here, but if you want anything more complex than three buckets and a cover, you’ll need an actual guide to distillation. Smoking and canning are presented as methods of preserving food, but you’d have a hard time managing either if you hadn’t actually learned to do them pre-apocalypse. The book in general is an interesting thought experiment, and a fun “how things work” bird’s eye view, but not a particularly useful how-to guide.