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What books are you reading?

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20 May 2020 21:43 #310490 by quozl
Replied by quozl on topic What books are you reading?

DarthJoJo wrote: I think one of Lewis’ great strengths in his fiction, Narnia and beyond (Till We Have Faces excepted), is a sense of comfort and safety.


That's an interesting way to put it. That explains why many (including me) don't find them to be great fiction. There are interesting bits but without danger, it's not that compelling. And Till We Have Faces is the great exception. Such an amazing story!
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20 May 2020 22:02 #310492 by Andi Lennon
Lots of grim history, as is my fetish. Both myself and my partner have devoured Buddy Levy's fantastic 'River of Darkness' and 'Conquistador' detailing the horrific and scarcely believable hubristic exploits of Francisco Orellana and Hernan Cortes respectively. I highly anticipate his new book about the doomed Greely expedition as well. Frostbite and Cannibalism are a powerful twin lure.

Also 'The New Jerusalem' by Paul Hamm, which is a fantastic look at the insanity that went on during the Anabaptist uprising and siege of Munster.

Honestly, in the right scribe's hands, human history is waaay more compelling when spinning the grim and fantastical than any number of paperbacks with a wizard on the sleeve.

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20 May 2020 23:54 #310493 by barrowdown
I've read several books during isolation:

B. Catling's The Vorrh: a lot of wanking. So much wanking. Great individual moments and a lot of nonsense. Very obviously an early effort by a writer trying to be deep. Whole sections of the book could have been cut without affecting tone, plot or overall effect.

Walter M. Miller Jr's A Canticle for Liebowitz: I enjoyed this one. Not what I expected going in, but a humorous, dark satire of nuclear apocalypse.

Walter Moers' The Alchemaster's Apprentice and Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures: These are the second and third books by Moers I have read. I love the writing style and (I assume based on the quality) the translator is doing an amazing job of keeping evocative, absurdist imagery.

Thomas Pynchon's V. and Vineland: both excellent examples of his work. These were my third and fourth books by him and I would now rank what I have read as: V., Crying of Lot 49, Vineland, Inherent Vice, which is in chronological order.

T.H. White's The Candle in the Wind and The Ill-Favored Knight: Neither is as good as the first two books of the series as he is bulldozing through huge chunks of Mallory while the first two expanded smaller sections to novella length so had time to play. Still fun, just not as high as it started.

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21 May 2020 10:49 - 21 May 2020 10:51 #310500 by Cranberries

stoic wrote:

cranberries wrote:

Shellhead wrote: Two recent books that I read were recent installments of their respective series:

Honky-Tonk Samurai, by Joe R. Lansdale, starring Hap Collins & Leonard Pine
The Perdition Score, by Richard Kadrey, starring Sandman Slim

Both books ended the same way, even though they are in different genres. They were published just months apart, in 2016, so it's probably just a coincidence.


I really liked the early Sandman Slim books but my interest wained after he took up residency in Hell. I need to return to those.

I finally read John LeCarre's The Spy Who Came in from The Cold . I had wrongly assumed that LeCarre got more cynical as his career progressed, but this book is as bleak as anything he's written. I really liked it.

I've read a bunch of his later stuff, and the experience of watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy after having listened to the audiobook years earlier was one of my top movie going experiences.

I'm also reading Daemon by Saurez. It's kind of an airport thriller that my brother-in-law who is in computer security recommended. It's ok, but I'm really looking forward to LeCarre's latest book, which is a sequel of sorts to "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," "Legacy of Spies." LeCarre is like 87, so it looks like he is capping off his life's work, and the book is getting great reviews .


If you're going to read just one narrative fictional book about the beginnings of the Cold War, "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" is surely an indispensable classic. Though extremely short and less evolved than his later novels, I think that it is LeCarre's best. It teaches you that when States engage in a Cold War, they must wage war not only against the enemy, but against their own supposed values and their own citizens. Everyone and everything suddenly become expendable in the spy game for the greater glory of victory in the Cold War.

If you like this genre, then do plan a visit to the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC; also, its free podcast, SpyCast, is also worth a listen.


So I missed this response, and just had the experience of reading my own quoted response and thinking, "I like the cut of this guy's jib" #narcissism

Although I missed this good response, I ended up going to the Spy museum in 2018, while at a conference. It's a combination of movie props and the world's largest collection of spy tools that can be inserted into your butt to avoid detection. I was using a Fuji X100 camera when I took these photos. The Fuji is a bit finicky, and not really suited to run and gun, point and shoot tourist photos.

photos.app.goo.gl/d66BdqiKrPt5sYs56
Last edit: 21 May 2020 10:51 by Cranberries.

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21 May 2020 12:11 #310505 by christopherwood
Alec Guiness's Tinker Tailor miniseries was far superior to the recent movie. Great book trilogy, also.
Haven't read Came In From The Cold but re-watched the Burton movie last week. Yes, very cynical, but not wrongly so.
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21 May 2020 12:21 #310507 by dysjunct

quozl wrote:

DarthJoJo wrote: I think one of Lewis’ great strengths in his fiction, Narnia and beyond (Till We Have Faces excepted), is a sense of comfort and safety.


That's an interesting way to put it. That explains why many (including me) don't find them to be great fiction. There are interesting bits but without danger, it's not that compelling. And Till We Have Faces is the great exception. Such an amazing story!


I think it's okay to have books that reinforce comfort and safety, but that pretty much relegates them, for me, to the category of kids' books. Which is fine, I have plenty of books for my kid that are like that, so one more isn't going to ruin anything.

There's also a bunch of outdated gender stereotypes in the book -- understandable given the time it was written, but not what I want my daughter to internalize when she's too young to be critical about it.
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21 May 2020 22:24 #310524 by Sagrilarus
Uprooted by Novik. Quite good, high fantasy. I'm a third in and enjoying it.
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22 May 2020 12:46 #310534 by Not Sure

Sagrilarus wrote: Uprooted by Novik. Quite good, high fantasy. I'm a third in and enjoying it.


That's a good one, I liked it a lot. The followup (not related except in tone) Spinning Silver is also pretty good. I was hot and cold on her Temeraire series, and gave up somewhere before the end, but the fairy tale books are among the best of hers.

I read Dalrymple's The Anarchy (the East India Company), and although it took forever with Covid fatigue it was typically excellent. Sure makes playing "John Company" make a lot more sense.

Reaching the end of a re-read of Quicksilver, the first part of Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. I haven't read these since they were new, so like 15 years. Some of the things that bothered me the first time bother me less, but man is this a novel of laying pipe. So much exposition.

Having a better grasp of European history than I did 15 years back also helps a lot.
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22 May 2020 13:12 #310535 by Shellhead

christopherwood wrote: Jack Vance.

Award-winning scifi, fantasy, and mystery writer, amazing vocab & sense of tone & pace, wonderful characters and plots. Prolific, too. He is my favorite writer.


I have read Vance's Dying Earth books, and they are amazing. I like the concept of the Demon Prince series, but I tried one and found it just okay.

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22 May 2020 13:25 #310536 by Shellhead
Aside from zombies, I don't think that horror works well on an epic scale. Horror is best when it zeroes in the fear experienced by individuals. And maybe zombies only really work because they offer an entire alternative setting while most horror is focused on the world as we know it plus one monster or maybe type of monster.

I recently finished reading Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, a writer from the Netherlands. I struggled to get started with the book a couple of times, because the premise is unusual and the introduction of the horror into the story is also unusual. The "monster" is a witch who has laid a particular curse on a geographic area, and anybody who moves there is more or less stuck living there. Other than that, the witch herself is initially depicted as an odd local annoyance that is monitored by a local watch group but otherwise generally not considered a threat. The story lacks a single POV character, though there is a particular family that takes a central role in the story. But the viewpoint shifts around, and that seemed to weaken the horror a bit, though allowing Heuvelt to broaden the scope of the story. In the final stretch, the scale shifts to more of an epic horror. On the one hand, Heuvelt is free to remind us of how badly humans behave in mobs. On the other hand, the shift in scale creates some narrative distance from the individuals which weakens the impact of the final events. Overall, Hex was a decent read. If you come across it, give it a shot, but no need to go out of your way to acquire it.

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23 May 2020 17:52 #310566 by ThirstyMan
I'm a big fan of Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. I understand all the criticism of long exposition but, for me, that just really adds to the immersion.

Many a time, reading his stuff, I've gone off on a tangent to find out a little bit more of the history via a wiki etc.

I also love his depiction of Newton, Hooke, Leibniz and others which really helps to bring the history of my profession to the forefront.

Can't recommend the Baroque Cycle enough.
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23 May 2020 18:18 #310569 by Jackwraith
I'm reading Simon Hughes' There She Goes, which is a history of Liverpool (the city, not the football club) focused mainly around the Thatcherite era and the city's response to being singled out by the Tories (the riots, the Militant takeover of city council, etc.) I'd known Hughes for a long time as a sportswriter for The Echo and now The Athletic, but hadn't realized he'd delved into something like this. He's a Scouse native, so he knows the material first-hand, in many cases. It's really dense, but really interesting for those of us who have a less material attachment to the city.
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23 May 2020 22:56 #310577 by dysjunct

dysjunct wrote:

quozl wrote:

DarthJoJo wrote: I think one of Lewis’ great strengths in his fiction, Narnia and beyond (Till We Have Faces excepted), is a sense of comfort and safety.


That's an interesting way to put it. That explains why many (including me) don't find them to be great fiction. There are interesting bits but without danger, it's not that compelling. And Till We Have Faces is the great exception. Such an amazing story!


I think it's okay to have books that reinforce comfort and safety, but that pretty much relegates them, for me, to the category of kids' books. Which is fine, I have plenty of books for my kid that are like that, so one more isn't going to ruin anything.

There's also a bunch of outdated gender stereotypes in the book -- understandable given the time it was written, but not what I want my daughter to internalize when she's too young to be critical about it.


So we have finished Lion Witch et al. I don’t think I will push the kid to continue them, but if she really wants ... hmm.

The book before this one was Alice (Wonderland plus Looking Glass). There’s some superficial similarity between this and Narnia. In both books, children wander around and have things happen to them. Yet I find Alice supremely compelling and have read it multiple times as an adult, before kid. So what’s the difference? I suspect, a lack of comfort and familiarity in Alice. Her adventures are deeply weird and disturbing. While they have an internal logic to them, it is not obvious, and even when you see the joke (often a pun, or mathematical truism made manifest) it is funny but not any less weird. Whereas Narnia is pretty short on both jokes and weirdness. Everything that happens there is standard fantasy logic shoehorned into Lewis’ theology.

To tenuously tie this into games, this is why I largely don’t trust myself to run RPGs that don’t offload a lot of the story-generating elements to the players or to random tables. Left to my own devices I deftly guide players through rote stories about heroic struggle and triumph that are boring in retrospect and often in the moment. (Criticism: be a better GM, n00b. Response: that’s what I’ve done by getting random tables and game systems that make players contribute.)

Related digression: prior to Alice, we read some of the Blue Fairy Book. (Very dated in parts, e.g. the hero’s ship is cursed and all his sailors turn into Negroes! Yikes.) The gent that collected all the fairy tales for that series deliberately avoided contemporary fairy tales, as he found that they were inevitably written by moralizing adults, for children. They lacked that primal weirdness that all the best fairy tales have: The woods are deep and strange and other, and the world operates by a set of rules that are not logical deducible from standard human observations about things. But they can be mastered by a sufficiently clever and brave protagonist, who is not above sacrificing innocents when necessary to reach their goals.

Lewis inevitably falls into the contemporary fairy tale feel. Narnia hints at weirdness but veers away from it in favor of comfort. It’s Epic Pooh, except not even especially epic.
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31 May 2020 10:08 - 31 May 2020 10:09 #310823 by Sagrilarus
I will withdraw my recommendation for the book Uprooted. In the end it turned out to be a slog and I didn’t bother to spend the time reading the last chapter. The story went all white guilt-ish and quite frankly, if I can abuse the trite phrase, it overstayed its welcome.

I am trying to decide if giving up on a book just before the last chapter means that the book is better than a book that I give up on halfway through or not. This book got downright depressing, and I kept thinking that they would turn the corner somewhere and that I could enjoy the end of it, but when all was said and done it was just too much of a grim slog to get through.

Back to non-fiction.
Last edit: 31 May 2020 10:09 by Sagrilarus.
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19 Aug 2020 11:48 #313247 by Joebot
Replied by Joebot on topic What books are you reading?
I finally finished The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, which I think I've seen mentioned previously in this thread. I liked it, but I didn't love it. Couple of comments:

First off, did it need to be 1000 pages? No. It did not. I know publishers have drastically cut staff in recent years, but are there no editors left in the publishing industry? Seriously, you could have cut 300 pages from this book without batting an eye.

The world-building is intricate and detailed, with in-depth descriptions of the ecology, plant life, animal life, etc. The book is so detailed, with lots of strange creatures and plants, to the point where it almost reads like a sci-fi novel set on an alien planet. I can appreciate a fantasy book that's not set in a bog-standard vaguely medieval-era Europe.

Ironically, for a book with such in-depth world-building, you actually see very little of this world! Most fantasy stories involve a journey or a quest, where heroes must travel to some far-distant land, having adventures and meeting people along the way, causing them to change and grow. Sanderson's characters do not move. No one changes, no one grows. No one goes anywhere. Two of the three main POV characters arrive at their location in a very early chapter, and then stay there for the entire book. The story feels weirdly static because of this. After 1000 pages, I was tired of reading about the same damn place, chapter after chapter. A few flashbacks and other small interludes give very brief glimpses of other places, but there's not nearly enough of this.

The book is decidedly PG-rated. The action scenes are described with a clinical detachment. There's no profanity, and absolutely NO fucking. Aside from some chaste courting between a few nobles, characters don't even seem to have a sex life. Now, I'm not saying I require George Martin-esque detailed scenes of debauchery in my epic fantasy, but just outright ignoring human sexuality doesn't strike me as a good way to create deep, interesting, believable characters. People fuck. It's part of life. Pretending it doesn't exist is just strange.

The writing is competent, but also rather bland with no real sense of style or voice. Characters say and think exactly what they mean. There's no subtlety, no nuance. There are no shocking twists beyond one key betrayal that is telegraphed way ahead and lands with a "well, no shit" when it happens. When I think of the modern fantasy authors that I enjoy the most, I think of Martin's devious plot twists, or Steven Erikson's mind-boggling scope, or Abercrombie's pitch-black humor, or China Mieville's insane what-the-fuckery. Reading Sanderson is like eating a baked potato with nothing on it. Filling, sure. But where's the flavor??

Again, the word I keep coming back to is "competent." This is epic fantasy designed to be safe and pleasant and comfortable.

The ending offers a few tantalizing hints at a larger mystery, and it's only here on page 995 out of 1000 that I start to see some potential for what this series (projected to be ten novels) could provide. I just don't know if I care enough to read any more. We'll see. Sanderson is prolific as hell, so it's hard to imagine any long delays like Martin or Rothfuss.

Next up, I'm going to read some Patrick O'Brien as a palate cleanser. O'Brien can do more with 250 pages of sparse, effective prose than Sanderson can do with 1000.
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