Author Topic: What are you reading lately?  (Read 126716 times)

random axe

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1455 on: November 02, 2016, 04:11:37 PM »
I recently read Beyond Apollo, by Barry Malzberg, one of those SF writers I feel like I should have read. 

It's, uh, well, it's short.  Basically, the book (I'm not sure if it's a novel, as such) is written from probably the perspective of an astronaut who's just returned from the first crewed mission to Venus.  I say "probably" because he's insane and completely unreliable.  The story, such as it is, revolves around his varying recollections of what happened on the mission.

As best the reader can tell, what probably happened is that the narrator was an unstable, dysfunctional narcissist who somehow made it into and through the training program.  On their isolated trip to Venus, and he and the Captain (the entire crew) were under considerable strain, causing one or both of them to go crazy, possibly but not probably under the telepathic influence of unfriendly Venusians.  The Captain died, probably murdered by the protagonist, and his body was ejected from the ship.  Then the ship returned home without actually visiting Venus.

The narrator blathers on and on, intermittently (apparently) interviewed by doctors at the asylum where he's being held.  It's moderately interesting, a fairly accessible example of disjointed New Wave science fiction and very 1972.

On the other hand, it's aged very badly in a number of ways, mostly in its sexual commentary, which tends to make the narrator seem like a complete ass.  He regards women as being more alien than the (imaginary) Venusians, and he's a total jackass to his wife, although of course he doesn't realize that he is.  He expresses homophilic and homophobic sentiments about the Captain that are sort of irritating at best.  This stuff all seems fairly 1950s, and it's just early 70s that it's expressed frankly in a pop novel.  You can't tell how much the author does or doesn't identify with the character, which makes it awkward.

Maybe the funniest and most remarkable thing about the novel is that it won the first John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.  Campbell would have HATED the shit out of this book.  :lol:  The award was started by Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss, and I can't help but think their choice here was about trying to move SF away from the Man Triumphs Through Science! Huzzah! space opera that Campbell liked.

On the other hand, the book was inspired by one of Harrison's short stories.  That might also have played a part.

Anyway, I don't want to take anything away from Malzberg's importance to the field, but I don't think I'll rush out and read another of his books soon.

random axe

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1456 on: February 23, 2017, 04:10:22 PM »
We often see James Patterson's Maximum Ride series, not to mention his two earlier Kids Who Have Freakin' Wings books, The Lake House and When The Wind Blows.  One of the first two books came with an into by Patterson saying a friend of his was a geneticist and it was possible [shhh] that kids with freakin' wings HAD ALREADY BEEN BORN.

Every time I see one of these books, I'm like . . . are you effing serious:shrug:

It's like if Michael Crichton had gone all Whitley Strieber and been like, "OK, OK -- I know I acted like Jurassic Park was just a novel, but actually I WAS THERE AND DINOSAURS ARE REAL, PEOPLE!"


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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1457 on: March 23, 2017, 03:35:21 PM »
I read Painted Ladies, one of the last Spenser books, and while it was better than some of the later Spenser books I'm about 95% sure it was finished by a ghostwriter. 

For one thing, the timing of the style is off.  A lot of chapters end a sentence late.  There'll be a good snappy end-of-the-chapter line of dialogue in a phone conversation, and then there'll be a one-sentence paragraph that says "We hung up."  Totally unnecessary, and it's just another comment after the punch line.  Oof.

For another, there are clunky bits where the characters briefly discuss recurrent characters who aren't in this particular book.  It utterly feels like an editor was thinking, "We can do spin-offs if we keep these characters in the light."  Awkward.

Also, the plot is clumsy and doesn't completely work.  It's the kind of mystery where if you go back, after you discover stuff, the things that happened early in the action no longer make sense.  Also, in Chapter 15, say, characters will have a conversation where X, Y, and Z are revealed.  Then in Chapter 17 one of those characters will express surprise at Y, and it's like . . . you already knew about that.  :whatever:

It's not really a big deal.  Parker wrote an awful lot of Spenser books, and the good ones are really good.  He should've switched away from them sooner, but that's life.

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1458 on: March 28, 2017, 11:14:59 AM »
Speaking of Parker . . . I just read Richard Stark's The Hunter, which was adapted into the films Point Blank (with Lee Marvin), allegedly Full Contact (with Chow Yun-fat), and Payback (with Mel Gibson). 

Stark was actually Donald Westlake, and the novel is gritty and nasty and peculiar.  It totally reads like he read a Mickey Spillane book and thought, "Hell, I can do that!" and then sat down and started typing away.  The end just kind of dribbles off into And Then I Guess This Other Stuff Happened.  In fairness to Westlake, his main character, Parker, originally didn't escape at the end of the book, and his editor convinced him to make the book into a series. 

It's interesting how much Payback, the best of the film adaptations, diverges from the book but also keeps some scenes almost perfectly intact.  Anyway, it's a fine genre exercise, brutal and awful.  :lol:

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1459 on: March 28, 2017, 11:21:48 AM »
Also read Connie Willis's Uncharted Territory, which is a short satire of . . . well, it's not an entirely focused satire, more of an amusing novella about colonialism, politics, gender relationships, and the media, I guess.  Two somewhat grizzled prospectors work for the government ("Big Brother", they disdainfully call their bureaucratic overhead) charting an alien planet, accompanied by a local who levies fines for pretty much everything they do ("Disturbance of indigenous soil", etc).

Meanwhile, there's a lonely co-worker stuck back at their homebase, and then into the mix comes an off-world expert on the sex lives of just about everything.  The off-worlder also brings rather dramatized media adaptations of the adventures of the main characters, who weren't aware that their unglamorous adventures had become popular entertainment.

Willis is certainly one of the better writers out there, accomplishing all of this in a short space with a lot of grace and wit.  Still, there are a lot of things that are intentionally not well-described that frankly I wanted better descriptions of.  Maybe I was supposed to feel that way?  Regardless, it's a short book and very good if you like this sort of thing. 

To be honest, I can't see why the prospecting wouldn't be done with flying robots, or something, but whatever.  It makes a lot more sense than Avatar.

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1460 on: April 11, 2017, 11:17:42 AM »
Bujold's The Spirit Ring, which I picked up because I hadn't read any of her fantasy books.  It's . . . impressive and very interesting but not entirely satisfying.  It made me think of Mary Gentle's work.

Bujold's books often have heroes who take a long time to act, restrained by doubts or social constrictions.  They aren't sure there's something nefarious going on, or they aren't sure exactly what it is and who's doing it, or they can't act until they can prove it's going on, or to act would trigger bigger problems, or etc.  Basically, the plots tend to deny them opportunities to be heroic. 

Then, often, the climax is simply the turning point where they're freed to take action, and then often (because her villains are often villainous only because they have different beliefs and motives) the denouement is an anti-climax, where the villains are easily vanquished once confronted.  Sometimes they realize they've lost and simply surrender.  It can be a let-down.

Bujold writes well, and her characters are sympathetic, so she gets away with this pretty well.  I find it's more successful in her SF books, probably because those societies are easier to relate to.  In The Spirit Ring, there's a lot of Can't Do That Because The Church or Because You're A Woman, which is awfully irritating, not less so for being realistic.

Still, the book is pretty interesting, and well-written, and it has a lot of good moments, and a climax that's better in conception than in how it plays out.  Frankly, you're probably going to want to see the villains kicked around more than they get, but it's still nice.

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Re: What are you reading lately?
« Reply #1461 on: September 07, 2017, 10:05:25 AM »
Had to go on a long family-business trip, and my brother and I took his car since it's a fancy Volvo AWD wagon monster thing.  Naturally, he's got one of them MP3 whatever jobs in there, but on the way back we listened to a book on tape for almost 12 hours straight.  And didn't get sick of it, either, so I figured I'd mention it here.

It was the first book in the Colours of Madeleine trilogy by Jaclyn Moriarty.  I've mentioned Moriarty before; she's an Australian author who writes somewhat strange YA novels.  I very much liked The Spell Book of Listen Taylor, which is sort of a Westing Game with a target audience maybe five years older, and I liked The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie.  I didn't find The Year of Secret Assignments as successful, but I'm further out of its target audience, I think.

Moriarty typically writes these odd stories that are told from the characters' points of view, and the characters often discover as the story goes along that they were wrong about how things are, so that the reader's understanding also changes.  Her plots are often pretty surreal and only slowly explained, but her characters are of a touching Adrian Mole kind of realism.

A Corner of White, the first book in the Colours trilogy, has two storylines that overlap a little, with the promise that the overlap will increase as the series goes on.  Madeleine (15, I think) was a rich kid until she and her mother abruptly ran away from her father on a whim and ended up living in poverty in Cambridge, England.  She's homeschooled, along with her two strange friends. 

She accidentally discovers that she can send and receive notes through a crack in reality, and on the other end is a slightly older boy who lives in a country called Cello.  Cello used to be more connected to The World but has drifted off over the last few centuries.  Cello has some magic, and also some technology, in a surreal mix, and it has a few other magical differences from the normal world.  For one thing, seasons come and go more or less at random; for another, colors sometimes occur in corporeal form.  These colors can have dangerous or beneficial effects.

It all gets extremely complicated, and is often funny and just impressively strange.  It feels like it was largely written in huge creative bursts, and I'm not convinced it's entirely coherent, but, like I said, we listened to almost twelve hours of it, straight, and we didn't get sick of it.  I bought the trilogy in hardcover when I got back, although I haven't started reading it yet.