September 2019: Reading Thread

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OHB

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Just finished What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe.

It's a nonfiction book by the guy who does the xkcd webcomic. As the title suggests, it's him answering ridiculous questions with real science--questions like "What would happen if you suddenly lost your DNA?," "Can you build a jetpack from machine guns firing at the ground?," and "How many Yodas would it take to power the world's electricity with the Force?"

It's humorous, informative, and at times terrifying. In other words, it's perfect! By far the best thing I've read all year.
 

williamjm

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I finished Claire North's 84k. I thought it was a reasonably good book, but I didn't find it to be as compelling as her earlier books (I've read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Touch and The Sudden Appearance of Hope). While the dystopian vision of Britain was convincingly portrayed it didn't feel that there was anything particularly new about it, and while I think it fits the story better to have a protagonist who doesn't have the unusual abilities the protagonists of her other books have it did mean he was quite a dull character, and out of the supporting I thought only Helen was really interesting. I did think the writing style worked well although looking at other reviews it does seem to have divided opinions, I can see why the stream-of-consciousness effect with lots of unfinished sentences and sudden jumps back and forward in time wouldn't be to everyone's tastes but I thought the story was still easy enough to follow. Overall, it's not a bad book but I don't think it's as memorable as North's other books.
 

Parson

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I've finished Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and I'm really in a quandary about what to say about it.

The strong points:
It's very original.
The main character (Rex) is one of the most original in fiction.
It's closer to hard science fiction than science fantasy.
It's plot turns are not predictable.
It has important things to say about:
(1) human nature,
(2) where the line is between sophisticated tools and intelligent beings,
(3) the likely direction of human warfare.

The weak points:
The concluding chapters seemed rather anti-climatic.
Why Rex's team thought so highly of him at first is baffling.
I would have liked the story to have focused on Honey or Bees, much more than Rex.
There always seems to be a key player off stage that is never truly revealed, only hinted at.

Overall, I would have to recommend this book. It is a book that I believe is an important addition to the SF genre. But I just think that such original ideas should have come together in a book somewhat better than this.

----

Now to contemplate my next read.
 

Vertigo

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I've finished Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and I'm really in a quandary about what to say about it.

The strong points:
It's very original.
The main character (Rex) is one of the most original in fiction.
It's closer to hard science fiction than science fantasy.
It's plot turns are not predictable.
It has important things to say about:
(1) human nature,
(2) where the line is between sophisticated tools and intelligent beings,
(3) the likely direction of human warfare.

The weak points:
The concluding chapters seemed rather anti-climatic.
Why Rex's team thought so highly of him at first is baffling.
I would have liked the story to have focused on Honey or Bees, much more than Rex.
There always seems to be a key player off stage that is never truly revealed, only hinted at.

Overall, I would have to recommend this book. It is a book that I believe is an important addition to the SF genre. But I just think that such original ideas should have come together in a book somewhat better than this.

----

Now to contemplate my next read.
I'd definitely agree with the slightly anti-climatic ending. It seemed to reach it's climax a little too soon and then drew out the conclusion a little too long.

Regarding Honey and Bees; Honey was smart but I didn't really feel she was inherently more interesting than Rex, Bees however was very interesting and I'd like to have seen more of her/them but I think it would have been difficult to do. As to their following of Rex I didn't have a big problem with that. Rex was a natural pack animal and as such the idea of leaders and followers was natural to him whereas both Honey and Bees were not but, I think, understood the need for it in their military roles. And don't forget Dragon didn't think much of anyone, including Rex. I still think that Tchaikovsky seems to be very skilled at giving his 'alien' characters motivations and attitudes that closely match their inherent natures and here I'm looking at his Children Of books as well.
 

Peter V

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I got one of Hobb's Liveship novels free on my kindle. Read a bit and thought it ok but thought I ought to read the preceding series first. So I got a good deal on the Farseer trilogy in one volume and plunged in.

Boy is this hard going. I thought my novel had a bit of unnecessary padding but this seems to be crawling on and on and going nowhere. Moreover the main protagonist is quite bland and if I am honest, a bit wet so it really is a chore.

I dont like giving up and I would actually like to see how it resolves so I guess I will get there. Eventually.
 

Hugh

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I got one of Hobb's Liveship novels free on my kindle. Read a bit and thought it ok but thought I ought to read the preceding series first. So I got a good deal on the Farseer trilogy in one volume and plunged in.

Boy is this hard going. I thought my novel had a bit of unnecessary padding but this seems to be crawling on and on and going nowhere. Moreover the main protagonist is quite bland and if I am honest, a bit wet so it really is a chore.

I dont like giving up and I would actually like to see how it resolves so I guess I will get there. Eventually.
That trilogy is the only Hobb I've read. I found it gripping, enthralling, and totally absorbing, but after finishing I realised (1) Having lived in that world for a week, I much prefer this one. (2) Given a choice I'd like that week of my life back. (3) No more Hobb trilogies for me.
 

Parson

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Moreover the main protagonist is quite bland and if I am honest, a bit wet
"a bit wet" is a figure of speech that I don't understand. Here in my area of the states we used to say (I can't remember the last time I heard it) "a little wet behind the ears" which meant simple and unsophisticated. Is that what "a bit wet" also means?
 

hitmouse

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"a bit wet" is a figure of speech that I don't understand. Here in my area of the states we used to say (I can't remember the last time I heard it) "a little wet behind the ears" which meant simple and unsophisticated. Is that what "a bit wet" also means?
No. Different meaning. Someone who has a tendency to shy away from argument or controversy. A bit spineless.

Also different from a wet blanket who is someone who is boring, uninspired, lacking sponteneity, and generally dull company. A drip.
 

Peter V

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"a bit wet" is a figure of speech that I don't understand. Here in my area of the states we used to say (I can't remember the last time I heard it) "a little wet behind the ears" which meant simple and unsophisticated. Is that what "a bit wet" also means?
No, I think a bit soft might be a closer description. I feel the character dithers & avoids confrontation, skirting around problems when clearly his skills could be used decisively. But Hobb loves to string it out and the nett result is an uninspiring protagonist. At least in my opinion.
 

Peter V

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No. Different meaning. Someone who has a tendency to shy away from argument or controversy. A bit spineless.

Also different from a wet blanket who is someone who is boring, uninspired, lacking sponteneity, and generally dull company. A drip.
Thank you hitmouse. You put it better than me
 

Bick

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Ok, so I've been making my way through A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and it's getting more and more like molasses. Hitmouse, Vertigo and Danny all warned me it was underwhelming after I announced I'd started it - I doubted they could all be wrong (being such well read sensible folk), and it transpires they're not.

The book starts brightly, and the prose and plotting is entirely in keeping with setting up and developing the characters and initiating a space opera plot full of tension and ideas. The problem is that while the writing works for a introductory chapter, then one expects the story to, you know, go somewhere interesting. Do something with these characters, Chambers! There is no tension, there is very little plot, there is little or no science, there is no urgency or dilemma, and everyone's nice to each other. The inter-species romance is stale and a bit meh. There are some interesting SF ideas here, but Chambers doesn't seem to know what to do with them. A chapter on buying soap! A chapter on an alien molting! This could have a consequence that introduces tension or develops the plot, but no, the alien molts, everyone is sympathetic, the end, next chapter. I was hoping that it would improve as I got into it, but there seems little chance of that now. I've read 200 pages, and I almost never do this, but I'm thinking I'll put it down and give up - unless someone tells me anything of interest is about to happen - is the first 200 pages the introduction, and the next 200 the actual plot? I've read that Chambers couldn't find a publisher for this, so she self-published initially until it got picked up. The first thought of the publishers to reject was the right one - it's a weak book. (I'm not sure how it got nominated for the Arthur C Clarke Award which is what tricked me into getting it). Becky Chambers can write quite well, but needs to learn about developing tension and actually having a plot. And when I say tension, I don't mean 'space battles' - I would suggest all good books develop tension and then provide payoff for the reader - it's there in Austen and Dickens in spades.
 

Bick

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Wondering what to read now - what else should I avoid Danny? Your smiley laughing emoji response to the post above suggests it's not going to pick up :)
 

dannymcg

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Wondering what to read now - what else should I avoid Danny? Your smiley laughing emoji response to the post above suggests it's not going to pick up :)
It really doesn't, I found it poor as well, my smiley was because your verbosity expressed perfectly my feelings while I was reading it.
I've noticed over the last two or three years the standards are slipping in the judgement of SF awards.
Some pretty mediocre sh*t is getting lauded as 'the great new work' while novels that don't seem to get any publicity are becoming the modern classics we'll one day look back on in awe
 

Bick

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I’ve started M. John Harrison’s The Pastel City. Terrific so far - Harrison certainly writes very well. His prose, while being highly readable, is dense in detail and impression. His work seems a little like Moorcock, if only Moorcock would take a little more time or care. Also maybe a little like Ballard - but perhaps this simply means I’m saying there is a prose similarity between New Wave authors? Any road, I’m enjoying it.

(Presumably tegeus-Cromis will approve of my reading choice in any event).
 

hitmouse

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Ok, so I've been making my way through A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and it's getting more and more like molasses. Hitmouse, Vertigo and Danny all warned me it was underwhelming after I announced I'd started it - I doubted they could all be wrong (being such well read sensible folk), and it transpires they're not.

The book starts brightly, and the prose and plotting is entirely in keeping with setting up and developing the characters and initiating a space opera plot full of tension and ideas. The problem is t on buying soap! A chapter on an alien molting! This could have a consequence that introduces tension or develops the plot, but no, the alien molts, everyone is sympathetic, the end, next chapter. I was hoping that it would improve as I got into it, but there seems little chance of that now. I've re
I’ve started M. John Harrison’s The Pastel City. Terrific so far - Harrison certainly writes very well. His prose, while being highly readable, is dense in detail and impression. His work seems a little like Moorcock, if only Moorcock would take a little more time or care. Also maybe a little like Ballard - but perhaps this simply means I’m saying there is a prose similarity between New Wave authors? Any road, I’m enjoying it.

(Presumably tegeus-Cromis will approve of my reading choice in any event).
good book. The series becomes a bit more challenging after the second one in the series.
 
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tachyon

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Delurking to note that I really liked A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I enjoyed it the first time through and have re-read it since. Also liked the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit. Haven't picked up the other Wayfarers books yet.

Since I was inspired to add my $0.02 regarding Chambers' books, here's a rather long post covering my reading this month:


New releases: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Gideon the Ninth is fun as hell, a gothic science fantasy in a decaying galactic empire with a fantastic voice and humor and protagonist I instantly adored.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a super smart take on portal fantasy wrapped in a coming of age story set in an alternate turn of the (19th) century gilded age United States. I tore through this one and loved every minute of it.


New to me: Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi, Dark State by Charles Stross, The Outside by Ada Hoffmann, and Blackfish City by Sam J Miller

I can't say a bad thing about any of these.

Summerland is an alt-history science fantasy cold war spy thriller, good fun and interesting tech with hints of cthonic deep evil.

Dark State is an alt-history science fiction arms race spy thriller, good fun with interesting tech and hints of menacing hidden antagonists.

The Outside is a far future science fiction space opera with mad scientists, oppressive totalitarian government and lurking transdimensional evil.

Blackfish City is post-apocalyptic climate change science fiction with high tech floating cities, oppressive government, evil corporations, and cyberpunkish heroes. Also an orca and a polar bear.


Re-reads: Among Others by Jo Walton, Empire Games by Charles Stross, Up Against It by M.J. Locke.

Among Others is a coming-of-age fantasy set in 20th century UK with a protagonist who is a voracious science fiction reader. It's about family, loss, ethereal yet earthy fairy magic, and being true to yourself. It's also about the love of science fiction and is a nostalgic tribute to the SF authors and community of the era. I love this book and have re-read it at least 5 times (so far) both in text and audiobook.

Empire Games is an alt history science fiction arms race spy thriller. I re-read this in preparation for reading the sequel, Dark State (see above).

Up Against It is a solar-system hard-SF set in a mining colony in the asteroid belt after an industrial disaster threatens the survival of the colony. It's my 3rd re-read of this, I love the setting and the breadth and scope of its worldbuilding.


I'm currently reading A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. This is in some sense a re-read, but I'm working on my Spanish so actually I'm slowly and with great difficulty working through Un Mago de Terramar, rather than "re-reading A Wizard of Earthsea".
 

vanye

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Now to contemplate my next read.
If you haven‘t already read it, how‘bout Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson? I just finished it and found it funny (in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way) and thought provoking at the same time. Where does sentience start and life end? Is godhood only about power? And what constitutes reality, anyway?

Very pointed jabs at current economical/political developments that made me laugh out loud. If you follow the idea of a lease economy all the way and mix it with a theocracy you get what, theomism? Not only the means of production, but basically everything is owned by the gods and we can only lease it. So you go to a restaurant and want your food to taste good? You lease the taste for half an hour and after that - no more taste. I wonder: does that mean that mega software corporations like Microsoft stole the core of their current business model from Marx?

Oh, about Becky Chambers: I‘ll have y‘all know that I loved The long way ...
 
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