Book Thread 2018^H9


Speaking of maps, I’m going to need some. Can anyone point to a good tool for sketching maps?


The Three Body Problem is a tough one to classify for me. The translation’s prose is stilted, the characters are cardboard, and the plotting is kind of scattershot, with an odd lack of narrative weight at times. But, much like the classic sci-fi I grew up on, the ideas carry everything else, setting up some fascinating mysteries and exploring them well. 4/5

Night is one that I’d been meaning to get around to for a decade or more, and it was short enough that I should have made the time sooner. As you’d expect from a Nobel prize winning, it’s a powerful narrative, full of gut-wrenching moments. Reading it right after Unbroken made a really interesting contrast, as both covered life in prison camps during WWII – this was much more grounded in the moment-to-moment existence, but I found I missed some of the broader historical perspective from Unbroken to help contextualize the events. Well worth reading. 4/5


By the way, I’m feeling like my nonfiction reading pile is a bit overwhelmingly about history. Anyone have any particularly strong recommendations for interesting books in other domains?


Well put. An interesting idea explored well will get me to forgive much. Asimov wrote generally terrible dialogue. Didn’t mean his books weren’t interesting and enjoyable, because the ideas powered them.


It’s possible I would find Asimov unreadable now (I haven’t tried in years) but, for me, The Three Body Problem was unreadable. I struggled to finish it and had zero interest in any sequel.

(When I’m free to read again, I’m planning to re-read the original Foundation trilogy. That should be an interesting test.)


It’s a tough slog, trust me.


Yeah, I plan to read the Foundation trilogy again to test that idea myself. I just loved mysteries as a kid, so the progression from Enid Blyton (who wrote mysteries for kids) to Agatha Christie to Asimov’s I, Robot was a natural progression, since I, Robot is full of mysteries. But I liked it so much, I read all the Robot books, Pebble in the Sky and then the Foundation books. And then I became a huge fan of science fiction and gobbled up many other authors.

I never did read Asimov’s Hugo winner back then. I finally bought and read The Gods Themselves around 2004, and I found it a great read. Asimov writes about ideas, but he does so using dialog, and it’s really easy to read and absorb. His characters are paper thin, but it doesn’t matter, because they’re a conduit for the ideas he wants to convey.


I did the Foundation re-read thing a couple of years ago. I found it surprisingly easy but I think that was because I’d mentally prepared for it to be terrible. It’s not great character development or dialogue, but it’s not as bad as I expected. Of course, this is also coming from a guy who enjoyed the Three Body Problem, so take it with the appropriately sized grain of salt.


Yeah, the Foundation books are an easy read. Not very long either.


I haven’t been reading much lately (though I’ve been steadily listening through The Expanse novels), but today finished Claire North’s 84K after a couple months of on-and-off dallying with it. It is, unsurprisingly, a good novel. (North is my favorite author.) But, it also has just a little too much of her rhetorical idiosyncrasies (notably, train-of-thought writing, which she is really good at and works great in small doses, but is somewhat overdone here) and would have benefited from a straightforward timeline rather than the jumping back and forth it does.

Capsule summary: The book is set in a near-future dystopian UK where all companies are owned by other companies, which are owned by others, ultimately by The Company, which owns everything, including the government. People who commit crimes are charged an indemnity against the crime. If they can pay, that’s it. If not, they’re sent to forced labor camps. Theo Miller (not his real name) is responsible for determining the amount of indemnities (one in particular is £84,000, hence the novel’s title) based on a variety of factors. Through a variety of circumstances he becomes involved in a revolt against The Company.

This is easily North’s most depressing book. Her books are generally infused with a deep compassionate humanism, and this one is no exception, but it’s also a bit fatalistic. There is literal raging at the moon, at circumstance, at the feeling that nothing we do makes a difference, or that the things we do make things worse, not better. She’s clearly exploring the mood of our era with Brexit and Trump and provides a catharsis of sorts–a thoroughly secular spiritualism. It’s definitely a book worth reading, but if you’re new to North I’d work up to it. At least read The Sudden Disappearance of Hope first (and/or Touch or Harry August, which are much more straightforward thrillers) to gain familiarity with her style.


For those that like audio drama adaptations BBC has a nice one of the 3 book Foundation series


Hey all, get the BBC iPlayer radio app. You can get all the BBC radio channel broadcasts and access an audio library of book adaptations, plays, etc. All free and some really great stuff.


I picked this up (Peter Watt’s Freeze-Frame Revolution) back when we were discussing it a few months ago, but didn’t get a chance to read it until just now. Started reading it on Friday and finished Saturday afternoon. It was pretty good, and I really appreciated how short it was. High-concept sci-fi set, oh, 65 million years or so into the future. Watts is really good at leaning on ideas for a bit, then leaning on action, going back and forth so you never get bored of either. Worth reading.


Ready Player One did actually pick up once it got past the intro. It never reached “good”, but I can see why it got popular – it’s at least novel to have a setting that amounts to dumping out the contents of a bunch of boxes from an attic somewhere. On the other hand, the lightweight treasure hunt tone is entirely at odds with the bleakness of the vision of the future. Not just the ecological/societal catastrophe, but a culture that has stagnated and begun eating its own tale, apparently failing to produce any noteworthy new works in decades. The parallels with things like medieval reverence for greco-roman culture could be interesting if the book ever interrogated the premise.

It’s also a world whose highest value is not even to engage with its canon in a meaningful way that demonstrates understanding beyond surface level (such as by understanding how the movie characters or game designers thought, and using that to generalize to a new situation), but just to slavishly repeat it. And on top of that, it’s a setting where the drooling jacked-in zombies of cyberpunk cliche, or the feelies obsessives of Brave New World are presented as an aspirational lifestyle (unearned last-minute schmaltz notwithstanding). Still a decently entertaining treasure hunt, and fun discussion fodder. 3/5

I don’t have much in the way of thoughts to explore about Bossypants, but it delivered a fun grab-bag of humorous anecdotes and musings. Quick read, no complaints. 4/5


I recently started Hyperion. I don’t read much scifi, but I picked it up when people here were talking about it. I didn’t think I was going to last long, it started out pretty dull, but it really started getting me interested during the first personal story (the priest guy). That’s where I am now.


I finished La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. I enjoyed it tremendously. The last quarter wasn’t as strong as the first half, but not bad. I need to reread the original trilogy.

Next up, The Black Company.


Apparently there are no ebooks available of the other two short-books set in His Dark Materials: Lyra’s Oxford and Once Upon a Time in the North.


Whipped through the Obelisk Gate, both because it was a great read and because it’s really short – just a 13 hour audiobook.

Quite good. I liked the partial rehabilitation of many of the villains and the slow-but-steady revelations about the story-world. While the first book ended with many dangling threads, this one was an Empire-like cliffhanger sequel.

I’m debating whether to just straight into the final book of the series, or to take a break from science-fantasy LGBT allegories and get the most recent “Expeditionary Force” book.


I recommend a break between each Broken Earth book to allow the mind to refresh so as to experience the emotional strength of the writing better.

As to Expeditionary Force, based on the rec here, I read the first one and got partway through the second but felt there was too little Ancient AI Beer Can and too much forced/contrived squad/ground combat. Given the context, I wanted spaceships and AIs out the wazoo, not reruns of Squad Leader. Maybe I’ll pick it back up…


I marathoned the Obelisk and the Echopraxia books on this thread. Good stuff. I also liked the Royal Assassin series. I’m trying the Liveships trilogy that follows. The characters are all unsympathetic. I assume there’s two young characters, Althea and the younger priest cousin that are going to be the protagonists. It’s just hard to keep reading about that horrible Kyle and his useless wife. Urgh.

I’ll slog through, I guess the author is succeeding in portraying evil family members.


@wisefool, I advise you to keep with the Liveship Traders series. It didn’t turn out as I thought it would, and a lot of interesting stuff happens (though to be honest, a few of the characters radically transformed somehow - in one chapter they’re a scheming no-good scalliwag, and the next time you see them they’ve changed into a selfless dedicated pillar of society). I recall being somewhat mystified about the transformation since there wasn’t any real exposition laying the groundwork for it.

Still and yet, I did like the trilogy.