May Reading Thread

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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.
Not exactly entertainment, but well-written, well-imagined and deeply moving by the end. The Spielberg movie isn't bad, but doesn't really do it justice.
 
You might also enjoy The Expert System's Brother/Champion pair as well ... but my favourite of his shorter stories was Ogres.
Those titles have been coming up with Amazon's recommendations for me for a while now, and I admit the titles have intrigued me. So based on your comments that I might like them, and because The Expert System's Brother is free to read through KU, I'm going to give it a try. Thanks for the suggestions!
 
I don't believe it's meant to be enjoyable. Most of it is pretty heart-wrenching. But it is an important book, I think.

Interesting insight. But it does sound a bit counter-productive if one is writing a novel instead of a text book or case study.

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I would call The Color Purple by Alice Walker an important work and a significant cultural comment. but not very entertaining and not that well written.

Positively, it is a thoroughly African-American book. It looks at the life of black Americans through the lens of an early 20th century black woman born in what seems to be the deep south. (I do not recall any particular cities that were mentioned that were clarify where exactly, and that's probably not accidental.) Second, it speaks of the horrors of the share-cropping and Jim Crow existence for blacks and especially black women of the time in unflinchingly stark terms, but also points out the resilience of some of those who lived through such times. Third, the main character, Celie, definitely speaks in her own voice, and that voice would seem to me to be familiar to most who lived through such times. Fourth, if a mark of a good story shows the main character "growing" as a person, The Color Purple does this amazingly well. Celie at the end of the book is a much different character than the Celie at the beginning.

Negatively, from a literature point of view, this books seems to me to be about 2/3's wonderful (the first 2/3's) and 1/3 awful. The wonderful part walks us through Celie's early life and particularly her early married life. The last 1/3 is mainly a series of letters between Celie and her sister Nettie which are most unconnected and seem to me to be a device whose main purpose is to advance the story a couple of decades by only hitting on some of the important family events of the decade. Personally, I find this letter writing technique in novels to be less enjoyable than most other forms. Lastly, I felt that the story did not support the ending very well, and that the likelihood of such a confluence of events was extremely dubious. I felt that the book was an excuse to promote a pantheistic world view rather than actually tell a story. (The forward of the edition I read said that it was more a religious book than anything else.)

This brings me to it's religious aspects. First, it makes some valid criticism of Christianity, especially the folk Christianity that sometimes exists in poorly educated areas where folk norms are probably more important than actual theological concepts and insights. Second, I felt its treatment of foreign missions and missionaries was unfair. It did point out some real problems, particularly for the mid-twentieth century Christian Missionaries. but it spoke very little for the very important advocates, teachers, and medical worker missionaries that changed life for many indigenous people in very significant ways. It really grated on me that the only positive views of missionaries were those who lost or never had any true Christian faith. Third, it grated on me that animism/polytheism was given a much lighter and much more positive critic than Christianity.

This is a very hard book to rate. I feel compelled to give it two ratings.

How important is this book culturally?

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

Do I think most people would enjoy reading it?

Avoid --- Not Recommended --- Flawed --- Okay --- Good --- Recommended --- Shouldn’t be Missed
 
I finished Adrian Tchaikovsky's The Lords of Uncreation, the third book in his Final Architecture space opera trilogy. I thought it was a really good conclusion to the story. While there are certainly elements of the premise that are quite familiar (such as the spaceship crewed by misfits who end up having to save the day), I thought that the series did have some interesting ideas that I hadn't seen in the other space operas I had read. I thought the conclusion of the story was very satisfying and I liked that it was about more than having a big space battle (although there are a couple of big space battles in the book). I thought some of the world-building was also very good, I particularly liked the Essiel, an alien race so different from humans (in appearance they look like giant clams) that it is a struggle to understand them or to even figure out whether they are trying to help or hinder. Some other bits of the world-building are a bit less detailed, we don't really get much of an impression about what life on ordinary human worlds is like in this future. I also enjoyed the characters and thought they all got some interesting things to do in the final book, although it did sometimes feel like there are only a couple of dozen important people in this interstellar civilisation who all seem to know each other. I think Tchaikovsky has perhaps written a few better books, but I still liked this one a lot.

I've now moved on to Leigh Bardugo's Rule of Wolves.
 
Since the last update I've read:

~The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Conscious Brains by Joseph E. LeDoux - so-so, some interesting bits, some rehash of old stuff, some explaining the author's own opinion of the matter. Wouldn't really recommend it.

~The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies by John Langan.
This is a horror anthology of "short" stories. John Langan can write, but the types of stories he writes don't particularly appeal to me and most of them would be better served as novels. I don't think Langan understands the concept of short story. Some of the story concepts were interesting or had interesting twists, but the long-winded, rambling style did not appeal to me.

~The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? by Paul C.W. Davies. The subject matter of the book is interesting, but since it didn't provide any information that I hadn't come across (many times) before, I found it a bit tedious... and somewhat outdated at this time, especially in terms of the various hypotheses (e.g. String Theory) mentioned. Would not recommend (i.e. find a more recent publication on quantum physics, cosmology or read the Equations of Life by Charles Cockell)

~The Coral Bones by E.J. Smith.
This is one of the better general fiction/ speculative fiction novels I've read in years! The beautiful cover is a bonus as well. E.J. Swift has produced a beautifully written and evocative ode to corals and their ecosystems. The novel revolves around the lives of three women and their love of the ocean. The theme tying these women's stories together is the Great Barrier Reef. Swift didn't write a fast paced thriller - she wrote a story that needs to be savored, that takes you on a tour of the world inhabited by these women. Another reviewer wrote that the novel was "depressingly realistic while also, somehow, being hopeful". I cannot agree more. I was pleasantly surprised by the hopefulness of the story (despite the depressing bits), which is generally not something one finds in climate fiction.

The reader is first introduced to present day Hana Ishikawa, a marine biologist working on the assisted evolution of coral (yes, it's a real thing!) and introduces the reader to the current, struggling state of the Reef. Hana is not in a good spot mentally, as she sees little hope for the future. The past is represented by a lively, intelligent and inquisitive 17 year-old budding naturalist, Judith Holliman, who has convinced her naval captain father to allow her to join him on his next voyage of exploration. Judith's sections are told in the form of a journal and describe her excitement at each new discovery of a thriving ocean ecosystem. The future 22nd century that E.J. Swift envisions, involves interesting ideas about the modification of human civilization in an attempt to clean up their mess and conserve what is left. In this century, Telma Velasco has the unenviable (or perhaps enviable?) job to investigate the reported sightings of animals presumed extinct and then collect such animals for conservation or restoration projects. One of those reported, but dubious, sightings happens to be of a leafy seadragon on a Reef that has been decimated. I loved that each woman has her own, distinct voice and character.

E.J. Swift has written a story in which I could get on board with all the characters, feel for them and enjoy spending time in their company. A memorable book and a joy to read.
 
I finished Leigh Bardugo's Rule of Wolves. I did enjoy reading it, but had some mixed feelings about it, particularly in the latter stages. I think there were probably too many plot points, the first book in the duology had been perhaps a bit too slow-paced at times but a lot more happens in the second book, particularly towards then end. The book does feature return appearances for some of the main characters from the earlier Grisha series but for one in particular there's not enough spent on them to really explore the impact of their return. There are a lot of plot twists in the second half of the book with some battles featuring multiple surprise reversals in fortune, with variable amounts of foreshadowing. I think either the series needed to be longer or (more likely) some of the plot threads needed to be trimmed a bit. I think the characters are the strongest part of the series and for the most part they do get some good development here, although there are a few occasions where it feels like the author has something in mind for a character and is determined to force them there even the means to get them there feels a bit implausible.

I've now started Ken MacLeod's Beyond the Reach of Earth, the second book in his current space opera trilogy.
 
~The Coral Bones by E.J. Smith.
This is one of the better general fiction/ speculative fiction novels I've read in years! The beautiful cover is a bonus as well. E.J. Swift has produced a beautifully written and evocative ode to corals and their ecosystems. The novel revolves around the lives of three women and their love of the ocean. The theme tying these women's stories together is the Great Barrier Reef. Swift didn't write a fast paced thriller - she wrote a story that needs to be savored, that takes you on a tour of the world inhabited by these women. Another reviewer wrote that the novel was "depressingly realistic while also, somehow, being hopeful". I cannot agree more. I was pleasantly surprised by the hopefulness of the story (despite the depressing bits), which is generally not something one finds in climate fiction.

The reader is first introduced to present day Hana Ishikawa, a marine biologist working on the assisted evolution of coral (yes, it's a real thing!) and introduces the reader to the current, struggling state of the Reef. Hana is not in a good spot mentally, as she sees little hope for the future. The past is represented by a lively, intelligent and inquisitive 17 year-old budding naturalist, Judith Holliman, who has convinced her naval captain father to allow her to join him on his next voyage of exploration. Judith's sections are told in the form of a journal and describe her excitement at each new discovery of a thriving ocean ecosystem. The future 22nd century that E.J. Swift envisions, involves interesting ideas about the modification of human civilization in an attempt to clean up their mess and conserve what is left. In this century, Telma Velasco has the unenviable (or perhaps enviable?) job to investigate the reported sightings of animals presumed extinct and then collect such animals for conservation or restoration projects. One of those reported, but dubious, sightings happens to be of a leafy seadragon on a Reef that has been decimated. I loved that each woman has her own, distinct voice and character.

E.J. Swift has written a story in which I could get on board with all the characters, feel for them and enjoy spending time in their company. A memorable book and a joy to read.
Swift's not written much recently but I read and enjoyed her Osiris Project books. Is this really three separate stories with a common theme or are they actually more closely linked than just thematically?
 
Swift's not written much recently but I read and enjoyed her Osiris Project books. Is this really three separate stories with a common theme or are they actually more closely linked than just thematically?
It's one novel, not 3 stories. There is a time difference between the 3 different timelines so none of the characters overlap or exchange conversations, but they all deal with the same geographical area and the events that occur in the past have an effect on the future (obviously!) and form part of the story. I cannot elaborate it more without spoilers. You can have a look at the 5(?) reviews on GoodReads if you like - one of them was quite detailed.
I picked up this book because I enjoyed her book Paris Adrift, even though historical novels aren't really my "thing". Paris Adrift might have a time war and time portals but it was essentially historical fiction.
 
Ah that's interesting, thank you! I've kept putting Paris Adrift off because I have become very tired of impossible time travel stories!
 
Almost finished with my last book of May 2023: Catherine de Medici by Leonie Frieda. A history/biographical book about Catherine Queen of France as well as mother to several kings of France.
 
Another short novel, one recommended to me by Rodders: The Expert System’s Brother, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Science fiction, set on a planet where earth settlers were abandoned long ago, despite the fact that all the flora and fauna on this world is naturally poisonous to humans.

But what do they eat then, you may ask? Why were they left in such a hostile environment? Both good questions. However, the computer systems on the spaceship (which still remains, although damaged) have devised various ways to sneakily inoculate humans to the toxins and allergens by changing their terrestrial-based body chemistry. And to guide the colonists and their descendants the ship created computer programs capable of possessing human hosts, and giving them the knowledge they will need to lead their communities, as lawgivers, doctors, and so forth. Unfortunately, over the centuries these programs (called “ghosts” by the humans, and “expert systems” by the computer) have stopped being advisors and have come to make all the big decisions.

This has allowed humans to survive and multiply and form communities, but the villagers live at a subsistence level, and their society has seriously regressed from that of their star-faring ancestors, so it’s all very much a mixed blessing. Humanity on this planet is stagnating. Being too dependent on the ghosts, the villagers for the most part have lost all initiative, creativity, or desire for innovation. Moreover, their lives are hard, uninspiring—and dangerous. The chemical changes that allow them to eat the local flora and fauna have also made it possible for the local fauna to eat them. There are large predators living not far from the village where Handry (the narrator and protagonist—brother of the village doctor) begins his story.

Because life is so hard and cooperation between individuals within the villages is vital to survival, anyone judged to not fit in (they steal, they refuse to work, or whatever the reason is) is sentenced to exile. But rather than just sending them away the computer systems have devised a more drastic and inhumane solution. Those adjudged useless or troublesome by the ghosts are “severed,” which involves being painted with a potion that soaks in and reverses their body chemistry so they are no longer immune to the poisons that surround them. They are then expelled from the villages, but what is much worse, because of the severing, they are doomed to either starve to death, or to die in some horrible way if hunger eventually drives them to eat the poisonous plants or animals.

Handry, though innocent of wrong-doing, is accidentally splashed with the “severing” being prepared for somebody else. The villagers make a frantic effort to scrub it off him, but it’s too late: some of it has soaked in. He is imperfectly severed, but that is bad enough. Much of what he touches or breathes causes allergic reactions. And though he can find things to eat, painful indigestion soon sets in, and the toxins from any particular food quickly build up to the point where whatever he’s been eating becomes dangerously inedible. So he is always hungry, always searching for food, and though the villagers haven’t banished him—yet—they do treat him as undesirable, and he fears they will eventually kick him out. Since he can’t bear the thought of being rejected by his beloved and hitherto loving sister (the ghost/doctor/expert system), he decides to leave on his own.

A lonely and difficult life follows, until Handry falls in with other outcasts from other villages, who—for one reason or another—have also been imperfectly severed. Their leader, Sharskin, is charismatic, but also ruthless and more than a little sinister. But Handry falls prey to Sharkskin’s charisma and becomes a loyal follower, inspired to perform violent acts against other humans. (To his credit, as the narrator looking back on his former actions, he neither excuses nor attempts to disguise what he has done or why he did it. Since he doesn’t offer excuses for himself, it is easier, as the reader, to find excuses for him.)

I read this book quickly, totally absorbed in Handry’s plight. The ending was somewhat open-ended and left questions unanswered, but still felt satisfying. The sequel may answer some questions, but as of now I don’t feel in a hurry to read it, since I found the end of this book a comfortable place to leave off.
 
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