May Reading Thread

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I’m struggling to connect with Cixin Liu ‘s The Three Body Problem. I hesitate to state that it‘s the writing style because it might be the translation. It just seems a bit glacial. Either way, I’m shelving it for now. I’ll try again sometime in the future.

Instead, I’m reading The Grand Fleet: Warship Design And Development 1906 - 1922.

It’s not clear from the title (unless you know what the Grand Fleet was) but it covers only British ship design. I’m currently learning about the Vertical Triple Expansion Engine, the move to turbines (geared and non-geared) and Small Tube Boilers. I don’t know why but I’ve always loved this kind of stuff:)
 
Yesterday I finished rereading Venetian Masque, by Rafael Sabatini. It's one of his lesser-known works, and never enjoyed the popularity of Scaramouche or Captain Blood or some of his others, but it's been a favorite of mine ever since I first read it in my late teens.

Marc-Antoine Villiers de Melleville is three-quarters English and one-quarter French, but by birth he's a French nobleman—he had supposedly been guillotined as a French aristocrat during the Terror, though he was able to bribe his way to safety with his English money. The setting of the story is Italy at the time when a young General Bonaparte was conquering the Italian states. Marc-Antoine, having anglicized his name to Melville, heads toward Venice as an agent for the English, on a mission to rouse Venetian resistance to Napoleon's invasion. On the way, he encounters an old enemy, accidentally kills him, and decides to assume his identity as an agent of the revolutionary government.

This opens many unforeseen opportunities for Marc-Antoine to fulfill his mission, but it's also a perilous deception—and because it was unplanned he is often forced to respond to various threats by making things up as he goes along. Fortunately, he is quick-witted, resourceful, and (as with other Sabatini heroes) endowed with nerves of steel. Nevertheless, he has many narrow escapes. The story is a romance in the old sense of a heroic adventure set in the past. There is also a love story—actually two love stories, but one is doomed to be forever unrequited—but most of the plot revolves around diplomacy and espionage, and also some swashbuckling, as there is a duel and two assassination attempts (Marc is the intended victim).

The style is old-fashioned--written in the 1930s, but much in the style of a 19th century historical novel--which suits the story and characters, and the prose often elevated (if you read this book, or others by the same author, expect to have to look up a number of words), as the characters express sentiments about honor, love, patriotism, etc. in the loftiest terms. Not to everyone's taste, but I've always liked that sort of thing. You can tell who the heroic figures are because, however misguided they may sometimes be (and the author is aware of this and expects readers to recognize it, too), they are people of principle. Their adversaries, equally misguided, are more practical, even sordid at times, in their motivations. In short, no one is perfect, but there is never any doubt who the good guys and bad guys are.

Then I read an old C. J. Cherryh, Wave Without a Shore. It's one of her earlier novels, but I somehow never read it before. It was short, so I finished it this morning. It's about art and philosophy, ethics and government, human frailty and enigmatic aliens. Also about how we create our own subjective realities, and either impose them on those around us, or vice versa. Although most of the story involves academic discourse and the act of creating a remarkable work of art, before it is over the hero (as so many Cherryh heroes do) is put through the wringer mentally and physically. He's not a likable character to begin with, but this builds sympathy. Not one of her best, but compelling in its own way.
 
Finished Richard Chizmar's Chasing the Boogeyman, which I found hard to put down. I think calling it Stephen King meets true crime reporting isn't unjustified, since Chizmar wrote it as a serial killer novel in a true crime format.

Just started Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Intriguing so far.
 
I've finished The Atlantis Covenant by Rob Jones, it's book one in The Hunter Files. This book has 1600+ ratings with a 4.5 star average. For me this almost always means that it's a good-to-great story. And, well, I suppose on story alone it might be considered good. On the positive side is a near future archeology mystery which is usually right in my zone. There were interesting ideas and an almost believable set-up. (Note that I find the likelihood of there being an actual Atlantis in the same "too weird to be believed" category as the Bermuda Triangle.) But two things were always nagging at me. First, in every action scene I found that I couldn't quite follow the action. It seemed to me that key bits of information were missing so I kept wondering things like "How did get there, when last I knew he was in this other place." Secondly, when the characters were fleshed out in some scene it felt to me more like an info-dump than something integral to the story.

I did finish the book, but I have no inclination to read any further in the series.

Avoid --- Not Recommended --- Flawed --- Okay --- Good --- Recommended --- Shouldn’t be Missed
 
Finished reading 'The Many' by @Bowler1 and I did enjoy it very much. I believe this was his first go at writing a novel, and the fact that he did so is all the more for me to read it. His style writing is not the same as we tend to see here on Chrons in his Bowler1 persona most of the time. Reading his work gave me a little more insight of the authors writing style, enough to look forward to reading more of his works in the future, including 'Culture Shock' as well as any other novels he has planned.

Now off to 'Databane' by our own Julian Miles.
 
Just started Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Brilliant so far - he really aces certain ideas. Also annoying because it's exactly the kind of thing that my academic background should have encouraged me to write :ROFLMAO:
 
Then I read an old C. J. Cherryh, Wave Without a Shore. It's one of her earlier novels, but I somehow never read it before. It was short, so I finished it this morning. It's about art and philosophy, ethics and government, human frailty and enigmatic aliens. Also about how we create our own subjective realities, and either impose them on those around us, or vice versa. Although most of the story involves academic discourse and the act of creating a remarkable work of art, before it is over the hero (as so many Cherryh heroes do) is put through the wringer mentally and physically. He's not a likable character to begin with, but this builds sympathy. Not one of her best, but compelling in its own way.
Interesting review, thanks. I think I have this somewhere but have also not read it. Given this is also the name of her website, I always thought that may mean it’s one of her personal favorites. Perhaps I should dig it out soon…
 
Imagine my joy in finding that there is a new El Donsaii book! Book #17 Twins by Laurence Dahners. (Yes, I read almost all of it in one night (all but the first 8% from 8:00 pm to 1 am) To add to my joy it introduces two new characters, Ell and her husband have a set of twins that are kidnapped as babies and raised in Mexico. I won't say any more about the story because I don't want to spoil it. Suffice it to say that few series can keep my attention deep into the series, and I don't think I've ever read a series that just didn't get old at some point. The Ell Donsaii novels are that for me. They are what I would call Positive Science Fiction. The Science is understandable, and not totally unreasonable. The lead characters are smart, moral, and utterly likable. The problems mostly come from the outside of the small group of main characters and they seldom act in immoral or unreasonable ways.

The downside of these books is that they are best enjoyed in order. I wouldn't say that it's impossible to pick them up out of order and still enjoy them, especially the later ones --- I'd say book #13 DNA and on. The earlier one really do build on each other.

Avoid --- Not Recommended --- Flawed --- Okay --- Good --- Recommended --- Shouldn’t be Missed

*Dahners is an orthopedic surgeon as well as a very prolific author. I stand in awe.

Now on to something that I want to read, but the forward has made me question my sanity: The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I'll still at least start it, but I don't expect to enjoy it all that much.
 
Recently I’ve found myself reading a number of short novels—don't know why, it just somehow happened that way.

The latest of these was Elder Race, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Ostensibly, this is science fiction, as one of its two alternating viewpoint characters is a low-ranking anthropologist from a far-future Earth, stranded on a former colony planet where the colonists have regressed (during the 1000+ years they were basically forgotten by those who put them there) to a quasi-medieval society, one in which, for unexplained reasons, the rulers and warriors are women. Abandoned by his colleagues (they promised to come back but never did) and out of touch with Earth for hundreds of years, Nyr Illim Tevitch owes his longevity to the highly advanced technology which preserves and protects him. And because he commands the sort of sufficiently advanced technology that the locals are—as the saying goes—unable to distinguish from magic, he is known to them as Nyrgoth Elder, sorcerer of an ancient race.

He is supposed to be on that world merely to observe and to record, and above all to avoid any cultural contamination which would negate the value of his work—but he is lonely there by himself, and suffering from clinical depression, so he can’t quite bring himself to turn away a young princess when she arrives at his tower door to invoke his help against a "demon" currently afflicting the countryside.

That princess is Lynesse Fourth Daughter. Curious and impulsive, she’s spent much of her life in one sort of trouble or another, is considered basically a nuisance at home, but she cherishes hopes that she can prove herself worthy of her heroic foremothers by killing the demon—with the help of the sorcerer, of course.

He doesn’t believe in magic or demons, knows he’s most emphatically NOT supposed to intervene, but … well, she reminds him of an old love, he’s come to doubt himself and his work (whether his reports will ever be seen by anybody from home—or whether it will matter if they are) and he can’t bring himself to give her a flat-out “no.” Yes, at one point he tries to tell her what he really he is and why he shouldn’t get involved, but the language has changed over the last 1500 years, along with a bunch of cultural assumptions and the basic worldview, so that in translation much of what he tries to say comes out sounding very, very different from what he intended. When he tries to tell her that he is a scholar, a scientist … well, both those words translate as “wizard.” When he says he has no magic, he is “just of a people who understand how the world works,” Lyn and her trusty companion Esha Free Mark accept this as a standard description of—you guessed it—a wizard. When he tries to explain how his ancestors brought her ancestors to this planet, in translation it becomes a great mythic voyage through the seas of night, an epic not of science but of ancient beings with god-like powers. And so forth.

The end result of all this mixed-up translation, is that in the chapters where he is the viewpoint character it’s a science fiction story with lots of technical gadgets, but when she takes over the narration, it’s a grand heroic quest through wonders and horrors. This difference in how they understand the world provides much of the tension in the story, but also quite a bit of humor.

On the whole, I found Elder Race a clever and enjoyable tale, with appealing characters, and a satisfying (if slightly rushed) conclusion.
____

While reading the last few novels, I’ve been slowly making my way through The Bookshop of the World: Making and Trading Books in the Dutch Golden Age, by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen. I am less than 20% through but already I have learned a great deal that I didn’t know before, and not all of it about books. I’ve been interested in this period for quite a while but most of what I’ve read has centered on England or France, so this is widening my horizons—which is apt for a book that so far includes so much about early explorers!

Rather dry at times and dense with names and dates, it also includes gripping stories of politics and religion, early newspapers and their role in the Dutch Republic, voyages of trade and discovery, tragical or inspiring travellers tales, cheap editions small enough to fit inside a pocket, sometimes from the same presses that produced immense and expensive atlases in gorgeous bindings worthy of the libraries of kings and princes … and who knows what else lies ahead in the next 400 pages or so? I look forward to finding out.

Unlike a lot of history books, which crowd all the illustrations together in the middle or at the end of a book—or leave them out entirely in digital editions like the one I am reading—this one has color photos of some of the documents (splendid woodcuts of historical events and even more splendid maps!) inserted throughout the text.
 
Teresa, I've recently read some of Tchaikovsky's shorter fiction and Eldar Race was a great read. You might also enjoy The Expert System's Brother/Champion pair as well.

I very much enjoyed Fire Walkers, but my favourite of his shorter stories was Ogre's.
 
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