Book Thread 2018^H9


I didn’t plan in advance to finish Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress while standing in line to vote this morning, but it’s certainly fitting. Pinker lays out a very convincing argument about the meaning of progress, how life has been improving across a wide range of measures throughout the world, and how that progress is rooted in Enlightenment ideals of reason and humanism. It also thoroughly discusses the biases and fallacies that can make it difficult to maintain an understanding driven by data and logic, and common counter-Enlightenment attacks from the perspectives of religiosity, tribalism, populist authoritarianism, and romantic individualism. It also gives some solid reasons based on historical trends to hope that the current populist/reactionary era will be a blip on an upward trendline rather than the beginning of the end for democracy, and that there is at least some basis for hope in our ability to respond to critical areas like climate change.

The writing is clear, logical, and convincing, though the middle does drag a bit with chapter after chapter focused following the same template (introducing a topic such as peace, equal rights, happiness, etc., and demonstrating steady progress with charts and graphs), with a nagging feeling that it is difficult to be sure that these particular statistics aren’t being cherry-picked to support the conclusion. Still a very important message, and I hope that it spreads widely and is read by those who are still convinceable. 4.5/5


Finished up Woodward’s Fear today.

tl;dr - It’s not uplifting, but it’s informative. I actually have some sympathy for the White House staff trying to keep Trump from doing even worse damage than he already is. Not a lot, mind you, because most if not all of those people are terrible in other ways. But props to Woodward for providing a comprehensive view.


I mentioned it in the Game of Thrones thread. Highly recommend Tuf Voyaging by George R R Martin.


Just started Last Mortal Bond, last of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, which I believe was recommended here.

For those who have read them, did I miss something? How did Kaden go from the heir and firstborn son in the first book, to being younger than Valyn in this one?

Good series though.


Oops, took a break from the forums for a week (well, ramped down activity) and missed the Murderbot question. I’d definitely recommend the series. If you liked the first one, you’ll be happy with the rest. They’re all short, though.


I read A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, the stand-alone sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Like the previous book it is incredibly heavy-handed and mushy, and it works great. Two thumbs up. It is nice to have some space opera that isn’t all grim and cynical. I think this book is better than the previous one. I think a lot of the writing was clever, which mitigated the lack of subtlety quite well. It also felt less like pastiche than the first book, but it does benefit a lot from the world-building it did.


Redshirts was clever but not necessarily likable. I liked the first 3 Old Man’s War books, quick & fun. The 4th is a parallel story to the 3rd, I couldn’t finish it. Then IIRC he did some serial project in the same world with different characters, was ok.

EDIT: woops, did not realize this post was pretty old.


Pretty much in total agreement with that assessment. I have not been interested enough in the 4th book to read it.


Yeah, Becky Chambers is great. Focus on kindness and compassion. Her latest, Record of a Spaceborn Few has such a gentle plot diffused over so many POVs it’s hard to even know it’s there, but it’s still a fine read. Though there is a little disruption early on before you get to the point of recognizing all the POVs, it works out in the end.

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Interesting. My library has it. I just put it on hold. (#11 of 11.)


I’ve already picked it up, will start it tonight:)


I’ll 3rd this. I’m reading Record now. I actually don’t find her heavy-handed. She’s never outright preaching. She just creates societies who actually carry out social programs that she seems to see as ideal. It’s utopian sci-fi. I really like her stuff.


Maybe heavy-handed* has other connotations than I thought. I really enjoy what she does, and she manages to get it to work. It is not preachy, but a lot of the points are very clearly stated. Which is not a bad thing when done right, like this.

Compare for instance Iain M Banks and the culture books, where some of the social critique in Player of Games is a bit more subtle. Unless I am not remembering right after all these years and that was as clear.

Hm. I think it is more that people are good in her universe, whereas there’s plenty of examples of societies not managing to live up to the ideals. I.e. how AIs are treated, and the non-GC worlds.

*= I looked up heavy-handed in the dictionary and I see that was the wrong word.


Read part of Redshirts and Old Man’s War. Put them down and never went back. Just not for me I guess.


Redshirts wasn’t really that funny. Maybe if he had had the actual Star Trek license and characters it could have been better?


Redshirts was a neat idea, but to me it felt like it was stretched out too much.


I felt much the same way, but I read fast enough that I got through it quickly and never really had time to get bored. Redshirts is a fairly short book. Or maybe I’m just so much of a sci-fi nerd that I put up with even the obtuse low humor stuff!


Heh. Iain Banks was never very subtle, either. I mean Player of Games is obviously a withering direct attack on sexist, patriarchal western society, and most of his other Culture books that include Special Circumstances intervening in some benighted primitive world are criticism of one or another aspect of societies in our modern world.

I wouldn’t quite say that the Quarian fleet, I mean the human refugee fleet in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers novels is a utopian society. It clearly has many of its own structural problems and is less than ideal in many ways. But it is a society based on kindness, neighborliness and mutuality, and I suppose that might make some people feel its presentation is preachy. It’s especially preachy if you’re a libertarian, I suppose. How dare these people find contentment without money.


Old Man’s War I thought was good, but The Forever War by Joe Haldeman covers kinda the same ground and is a better solo book.


Okay, cool. I loved Forever War and the sequel too.