Author Topic: What are you reading lately?  (Read 139396 times)

random axe

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1545 on: September 17, 2018, 10:12:26 AM »
:hmm:  :thumbsup:

random axe

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1546 on: September 19, 2019, 05:50:58 PM »
I recently re-read Roger Zelazny's This Immortal, which I hadn't read in at least twenty years.  Always a crapshoot, but in this case the book was much more impressive than I remembered.  I don't think I could match the restraint he shows here in doing a lot of worldbuilding and then keeping the exposition to a minimum.  The story's told by the main character, and he's definitely a trifle stylized and dramatic sometimes, but he has his reasons, and it works here, I think.

This Immortal was originally written in the mid-60s and was part of Zelazny's re-imagination and re-invigoration of Golden Age SF, where he wrote dramatic, characterization-heavy stories set on Barsoom-styled Mars or a swampy Venus.  In this case, blue-skinned humanoid aliens bought the Earth after it was largely devastated by a nuclear war; some of the surviving human population moved to other planets, and some remained behind as refugees or rebels or just working in alien resorts.

Here, the main character is in charge of maintaining Earth's remaining antiquities for alien tourists, basically, and he may or may not be immortal (or even the god Pan), but undeniably he used to be the leader of the anti-alien revolution.  Then a member of the alien family that owns Earth arrives and demands to be taken on a tour of the Pyramids and ancient Greece and so on, and intrigue develops.

You either like Zelazny's style or you don't.  I don't always think he gets it right, but it works for me here.  Like Vance, he was consciously using an archaic style for effect.  I don't know if that context matters.

random axe

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1547 on: September 19, 2019, 05:52:19 PM »
I also recently finally read John Wyndham's Out of the Deeps (The Kraken Wakes), a 1953 disaster novel in which Earth is invaded by aliens who prefer high pressures and thus colonize the depths of the oceans.  They attack ships, unpredictably, and then coastal areas, and then melt polar ice to raise the sea levels. 

The true nature of the aliens is not revealed, and the end is realistically but anticlimactically deus ex machina.  The writing is bizarrely condensed and evaporated, by modern standards, like overly sweetened canned milk.  Fifty thousand words was a good length for a novel at that time, and so often a paragraph of matter-of-fact exposition replaces what would now be four chapters.

Much of the book thus comes across as a sort of summary of an actual novel.  There are oddly sketched-in moments -- the narrator at one point, in one sentence, mentions that he and his wife had a baby, who then died, and it never comes up again.  You'll get six pages of gripping aliens-stealing-hapless-humans, with the tentacles and the dragging into the ocean and drama.  And then it'll revert to terse, bloodless descriptions of going to work or heading out to a vacation cottage for six weeks.

Similarly, a lot of the story consists of characters simply speculating.  Maybe the aliens don't understand surface life any better than we understand them; maybe they think all humans live right on the coastlines and can simply be drowned by raising the waterline a bit.  Maybe their technology is based on biology and chemistry without physics.  Hey, maybe!  But we'll never know.

Years ago, I wrote a book that has a sufficiently similar premise so that I was kind of fascinated any time things lined up.  Fortunately, for me, the stories are vastly different.  :lol:  But I think if anyone had read my book and was aware of Wyndham's, they probably wouldn't have believed I hadn't read it, which is kind of funny.

Wyndham is better remembered for his oddly overpacked Day of the Triffids, a disaster novel in which (A) a comet blinds almost everyone on Earth, and then (B) large slow-moving carnivorous plants proliferate and start eating everyone.  I always liked that plotting chutzpah.  I mean, the plants wouldn't be so effective without most people being blind, but they could've just caused the blindness themselves by releasing massively allergenic pollen. 

It's like if Godzilla attacked the city right after a massive earthquake, or if martians invaded during the zombie apocalypse.

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1548 on: September 27, 2019, 04:21:10 PM »
I finally finished Fall by Neal Stephenson.  It's an interesting experiment.  Thought was provoked.  Questions asked.  Enoch Root makes several appearances.  Baroque Cycle is still probably my favorite but that was 3000 pages.  The 880 or so in this left too much unfinished.  Curiously Elmo was a short lived nickname of mine back in the 80s.

Just started Prepared by Diane Tavenner and I'm three chapters in and have already cried several times.  Anyway she is the CEO of the charter school group and Ian goes to one of the 11 campuses.  I couldn't be happier with his school so if you want a roadmap and want to change the world for the better, this may help.
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random axe

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1549 on: September 28, 2019, 12:14:06 PM »
:hmm:


I just finished the very condensed and somewhat diffuse The Dream Millennium, by James "Sector General" White.  There's a briefly sketched future in which overpopulation has led to the legalization of violence, from dueling to terrorism.  The main characters agree that the Earth is either doomed or in big trouble, and so they let a religious order put them on a sleeper ship to hopefully colonize some other planet.

However, while in cryogenic sleep, they experience strange and painfully vivid dreams in which they remember past lives, more or less -- very including lives as dinosaurs and so on.  The dreams usually end with death, and the whole thing is pretty traumatic.  Naturally, they're kind of obsessed with figuring out what the hell's going on . . . during the short periods in which they're awake.

Meanwhile, the ship travels for centuries, hunting for a suitable planet, and they tangle with hostile aliens.  There are many flashbacks to life on Earth, plus all the dreams, and in the end it . . . sort of makes sense.  It's not very climactic.  It's not White's best work, but it made me think of some of Spider Robinson's stuff.

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1550 on: September 30, 2019, 04:41:45 PM »
I read the "Imperial Radch" trilogy by Ann Leckie: Ancillary {Justice, Sword, Mercy}.

Liked it a lot. Lots of thought provoking stuff about what it means to be human and what gender is all about and the historical legacy of slavery and atrocity without all of that being the focus of the story - the story is about revenge and rebuilding your life after trauma, but it's exciting and suspenseful and set in a well developed universe.

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random axe

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1551 on: October 01, 2019, 12:23:20 PM »
I've heard a lot of good buzz about the Ancillary series.  I'm hoping to get to it eventually.


I just finally started reading a 1983 collaboration between Fred Pohl and Jack Williamson, Wall Around a Star, and I was like . . . well, first, too much Pohl and not enough Williamson (which sounds like a dirty joke), but, second, jesus the exposition is la-di-da.

Then I was like Waitaminnit . . . and . . . yes,  it's the sequel to Farthest Star, from about ten years earlier.  Which I have somewhere but haven't read.

So I gotta find and read that one first.

I dug up a few semi-obscure Jack Vance books I haven't read yet, so maybe I'll read one of those in the meantime. 

Oh, I also recently read Matheson's Shock III, a short story anthology from 1966 that's very Twilight Zone (go figure -- it includes Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, but most of the stories do have a Not His Strongest Work flavor that may explain why they weren't in earlier anthologies.

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1552 on: October 02, 2019, 01:16:08 PM »
MK Gibson's Shadow Master trilogy; Villians {Rule, Pride, Deception}

Fourth wall? What fourth wall? The audiobooks have different content than the print versions, because of course the main character is going to insult the voice actor. It's campy in its own unique way, sarcastic, offensive, and quite a ride. Not sure I could take it internally or in large doses, but it was fun.
I'm generalizing from one example here, but everyone generalizes from one example. At least, I do.

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1553 on: December 16, 2019, 12:38:16 PM »
WELL, I tried reading Farthest Star, the prequel to Wall Around A Star, and, honestly, no, it's not for me.  It would take a long time to explain everything about these books that went wrong, to my tastes, but ultimately it feels like . . . it feels like a lot of world-building and not nearly enough attention to character and not nearly enough interest, by the authors, in the plot.  I didn't finish them, and that's how it goes.

I also gave up on a James Schmitz book, The Lion Game, because . . . it's about a telepath, and telepathy stories almost never work for me.  You can have telepathy in your story, but if it's a major feature of the story . . . that almost never works out.  Schmitz had three major heroes in his works, all of them female.  Telzey Amberdon, the psychic character, doesn't work well for me.  I want to like her, and I admire how casually feminist she is as a 1960s SF hero, but the telepathy stuff bores me.  :shrug:

It's a shame, because I really liked The Demon Breed, which had a non-telepathic female hero (Nile Etland) who's just good at things and resourceful and smart and insanely brave.  I haven't read anything with the third hero, Trigger Argee.  Schmitz's stuff has largely been re-edited in newer releases, done by Eric Flint, and probably I should read those versions, but they're rarer here at the shop.

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1554 on: December 16, 2019, 12:48:29 PM »
I also finally read two of Jack Vance's straight-up detective novels, The Fox Valley Murders and The Pleasant Grove Murders, which feature the same small-California-county sheriff.  They're quite good, and much less Vancian than whichever "Ellery Queen" mystery I read years ago, but they're oddly unsatisfying, in a minor way.  He draws the characters well but treats them oddly.  His style is really better-suited to the more Dumas-esque mode he wrote most of his SF/F with, where anything can happen because it's all a sort of lark.  In Pleasant Grove, he sets up a female character to seem as if she might be the hero -- from an early age, she's confident, intractable, iconoclastic, and makes people crazy.  But then she turns into a minor character, and she gets married off awfully anticlimactically as an afterthought, as if he's saying that people can be remarkable and still fade into humdrum disappointment.  I don't even think she's a red herring.  Possibly she's a holdover from an earlier version of the story.

Vance could be very pessimistic when he was in a mind, and a lot of his stories end with the hero walking away as everyone else is overtaken by misery that they arguably deserve.  In these two detective novels, the detective seems to have no strong feelings about much of anything.  He's not a hard-bitten Western sort of hero, driven singlemindedly by duty or stubbornness.  He cares about the usual things, but just . . . not a whole lot.  He solves the murders because it's his job and it'd be irritating to fail.  If an old friend of his is a victim or turns out to be the killer, that's just the kind of thing that happens.

Both books were good to read.  They just leave a strange impression.

random axe

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1555 on: December 16, 2019, 01:03:55 PM »
AND speaking of books that are good to read but leave a strange impression . . . I finally read Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson.  A number of years ago I read a later book in the same sort-of-a-series, Started Early, Took My Dog, and it was like being smacked in the face with a refreshingly wet towel when I didn't realize how dehydrated I was.

Case Histories is a strange cross-genre / out-of-genre creature -- strange partly because it succeeds so well, whereas most creatures of these species are nonviable mutants.  Here, we're given the backstories to a handful of unrelated crimes and tragedies, and the story jumps ahead ten to twenty years to a time when her recurring detective character, Jackson Brodie, becomes involved in all of them, sometimes centrally and sometimes tangentially.  He solves some of the mysteries, but the reader learns more than he does, which is fine.

However, the story (as in Started Early) is not about whodunnit or howdunnit or how the detective solves the cases.  It's about the characters, about the victims and the survivors and the detective, and their problems before and after, and how their lives intersect.  It's mostly . . . well, it's mostly sad, frankly, because Atkinson highlights how people are not in control of their lives, and don't know what they want or how to get it, and how irreversible things happen whether we want them to or not, and how we're not very good at coping with any of it. 

And this is not the sort of thing I generally like to read.  I like genre fiction largely because I get enough of real life from real life.  Most general fiction bores me horribly, at best.  I often feel bad for the characters (if not the author), but I don't want to know what happens to them.  I can't do anything to help them.  And I rarely find myself too impressed by the author's commentary, either.  Can't help it.

Atkinson is one of those rare authors who makes me like things I normally can't stand.  And I really liked Case Histories, although the damn thing nearly made me cry a few times, and I never cry.  It's not miserable, even though miserable things certainly happen in it, and the characters are often miserable.  Aside from the ones who die, the characters aren't hopeless.  Good things happen, too.  And mostly the people in the novel are at least trying to be decent, and to help each other, or at least to be kind.  The story isn't merely human, but humanistic.  The mysteries aren't solved so the evil can be punished, but so the survivors can move forward.

Beyond that, the writing is just really nice.  There's a lot of humor of a strange kind in it, observational humor that isn't funny but more Isn't It Funny absurdist.  It's hard to say why it works so well.  Her writing is almost as clever as Pratchett or Douglas Adams, but not nearly as wise-ass.  She's not making cute comments.  The heartbreaking bits are awful but convincing, not just character abuse, although there are a few fine lines.  Some of the happiness feels a bit contrived, but also still sufficiently plausible and satisfying, because she's convincing in painting the world as just being like that.  Bad things happen.  Good things happen.  You gotta buckle up and buckle down and try to ride it out.

It's a strange book, strangely constructed, but a page-turner, and satisfying.  I'd put her up as a serious author, per se, over a lot of Serious Authors.

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1556 on: December 16, 2019, 06:34:46 PM »
I'm currently reading an anthology edited by my friend John who is in the bands, Fleshies, Street Eaters, Difficult, and formally of Triclops!

Teaching Resistance: Radicals, Revolutionaries, and Cultural Subversives in the Classroom
"It all trickles down from the hot sex. I'm not saying you don't need cheese, just that if you concentrate on the hot sex, the cheese will follow. Naturally."--PsiDefect 03-19-2002 11:28 AM

random axe

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1557 on: December 18, 2019, 05:36:21 PM »
Forgot:  I also tried The Flying Sorcerers, an SF novel by Gerrold and Niven that . . . was meant to be funny.

It wasn't.  It was kind of painful.  Honestly, I know what happened, here.  They were at a con, they'd had a few drinks, they were having a good time with a bunch of people.  And they came up with the outline of a fandom parody that could pass for a regular SF story but where this one character is really Isaac Asimov, and there are gods or characters named for a zillion other major figures of the field or of fandom, and so on.

But then it's basically an inside joke, and it's kind of precious, and it ends up not being a good novel and not being, you know, actually funny.  A big part of the problem is that the story was built to support the framework of meta references, and so it proceeds abysmally. 

I didn't get far enough into it to get to the part reviewers say represents a huge change of tone, or to see the alleged dreadful misogyny (no doubt), and apparently at the end . . . it doesn't make sense.  Honestly, as soon as the narrator mentions that his sons Wilville and Orbur are bicycle makers . . . I knew the whole thing was going to be the kinds of puns that are only funny to the person who came up with them.  And it's hard to imagine that they still seemed funny by the time the book went into print, but I think publishing the thing was, itself, an inside joke.

Anyway, it wasn't fun, and I quit it, and I have no regrets.

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1558 on: December 18, 2019, 11:22:41 PM »
As A Color, Shade of Purple-gray.
I'm generalizing from one example here, but everyone generalizes from one example. At least, I do.

random axe

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1559 on: December 19, 2019, 06:32:00 PM »
:lol:

Srsly, it's full of stuff where it's like . . . :eyeroll: . . . and then you find out what the pun is, and it's like . . . :eyeroll: