All of Terry Brooks’ Shannara books are sci-fi. Just saying.
Apparently the end of February is for reading thinky translated novels about near-future Earth society reacting to evidence of highly advanced aliens that we never physically “meet”. Both are pretty clunky in terms of characters, but are carried by their big ideas (and both are titled after their respective metaphors for how alien societies might relate to humanity).
Roadside Picnic does a great job of evoking the unknown and incomprehensible, as well as people adapting as best they can to it. It’s short and sweet. 4/5
Dark Forest I thought was a step up in many regards from Three-Body Problem. The translation has a bit more literary flair, and the revelations and big ideas were spread out more evenly. It has some moments and concepts that I’m sure will pop up in my mind for months to come, but it’s also held back from reaching my all-time favorites by some dots that don’t quite connect, and rather cringey treatment of women. 4/5
And since February is basically over, here are the prompts for April, with a historical era theme.
April 2019 Prompts:
- 4A - Main: Pre-476 A.D.
- 4B - Bonus: 477-1491 A.D.
- 4C - Bonus: 1492-1865 A.D.
- 4D - Bonus: 1866-1945 A.D.
Poor phrasing on my part - I don’t actually believe fantasy and sci-fi are separate, just variations on the same spectrum. Let me restate: “Terry Brooks wrote a non-Shannara, futuristic thriller? I had no idea. Had to grab it.”
It’s amazing how varied people’s responses are to these books. I had much the same reaction as you did, but I know folks who absolutely cannot stand the style and never even made it to the second book. And there are those who loved the Three-Body Problem but hated Dark Forest. Just goes to show, the variety in human tastes is extensive!
Well, that was frightening. Summary: The state of nuclear power in the world is pretty scary and not likely to get better.
I’m justifying my placement of this book into “Hardware and Technical Stuff” because there is a decent amount of explanation about how nuclear power works. Especially in the appendix, where it talks about the guts of the power generation and also has some disturbing descriptions of what radiation can do to the human body.
But the real thrust of the book is the politics and economics - how those forces are preventing regulatory bodies from enforcing safety rules on the nuclear power industry. Regulatory capture is the relevant term here: when an industry wields such influence over how regulation is done that they’re writing their own rules. And when you’re talking about an industry where even a minor failure is dangerous, and a major one is a massive disaster, that’s a scary thing to contemplate.
We are still screwed: the coming climate disaster
Well, that was a dud. This reads like someone showed Terry Brooks some classic cyberpunk and said “now write something exactly like this, don’t do anything new or interesting, and make sure anyone with a brain knows where the plot is going nice and early.” Brooks is a skilled writer, so the book is readable, but I kept waiting for the twist that would make the time spent on it worthwhile and that never came. Don’t waste your time on this one.
Barely got February in under the wire (but then didn’t have time to post yesterday).
I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t already been said better above. Great book, highly recommended.
I’ll admit to being surprised to see you guys talking positively about Terry Brooks earlier in the thread. Sword of Shannara is cemented in my mind as the first time I ever realized that a book could be actively bad. I had gotten a decent way through it and then it suddenly struck me that it wasn’t just playing with common themes and ideas, but that almost every character and plot point had a direct correspondence to an equivalent in LotR.
This was short, but nonetheless repetitive. The whole thing is an argument for index funds as a primary investment vehicle for most people. It makes a very convincing case and points out the issue with mutual funds – excessive fees and taxes, and the fact that they inevitably bring the real return for the average investor down to below that of the market as a whole. But it really belabored the point, with each chapter being only slightly varied way of making the same argument, without expanding on it in some ways that would have been more helpful. In particular, I really would have liked a clear presentation of some common objections that are raised to the author’s thesis, and how he would respond to them. He repeatedly gives the impression that these ideas are somewhat controversial in the finance world, but doesn’t even try to broaden the one-sided presentation. 3/5
If I were to go back and read Sword of Shannara now, I’d probably feel the same way. When I first read that series, I was a teenager who wanted nothing more than more worlds like Tolkien. I didn’t really care that it was derivative; that actually might have been a bit of a selling point. And of course, once I got into it, then I wanted to see what else happened in the Shannara world.
So in retrospect, it makes perfect sense that Brooks would do the same thing in a cyberpunk setting with Street Freaks. But I’m an old fogey now and don’t have the patience for it. :)
The book Young Thurgood has a lot of fairly dry history; important stuff, but I couldn’t really rate it higher since I did struggle a bit to get through it. I enjoyed it despite the dryness - Thurgood Marshall’s life is fascinating and his impact on society was immense. Just be warned that you may need to fight off the drowsiness a bit on the way through!
The film Marshall is very much the opposite - highly entertaining, but I doubt the historical accuracy. But I don’t really care all that much, as the point of the film was to show Marshall as a sort of civil rights superhero, not just through his own actions but as inspiration for others. A bit of artistic license for that is fine by me.
I picked Off to Be the Wizard, totally judging a book by its cover and assuming it was generally going to be about gaming. Really, it’s mostly about 70s and 80s nostalgia and has little, if anything to do with gaming. Ah well – I’m counting as a “win” regardless.
Cute book – almost totally weightless, but I enjoyed my time with it. It’s certainly a book written by nerds for nerds, much like Ready Play One. It’s more of a comedy book than any thing else – at no point did anything seem serious or even stressful… kind of like Pratchett’s early “Diskworld” books, but not quite as clever.
I’m not sure if I’ll continue with the series or not, but it was a fun diversion. And I have to say that the narrator (Luke Daniels) was spectacular.
A short, pleasant journey through the towns and landscape of the Texas frontier, bolstered by some lovely language and a heartwarming relationship between the main characters. I liked it overall, but it was somewhat predictable, and held back by a couple of niggles (the titular conceit is omnipresent, but doesn’t quite develop or coalesce into something greater; there’s a stylistic choice to omit quotation marks, which I found distracting). 4/5
@ineffablebob – The Fifth Risk was my other main option for P&R this month, so I switched over and joined you in reading it.
So, every month when picking out choices to queue up for each prompt, my starting point is my “want to read” shelf on Goodreads. This time, the prompts are so wide-ranging that it seemed like half my list would work for one of them. However, true to stereotypes, history books do include a high preponderance of 900-page monster tomes, and I doubt my ability to get through four of those in a month. So I picked both a weighty book and a more digestible short backup novel for each prompt. I’ll start with the heavy stuff and see how long I can last before switching over to stay on track.
Equal parts amusing and depressing. Well written; clearly argues for the value of the work done by the generally anonymous federal bureaucracy, as well as the dangers of putting them in the hands of ignorant, apathetic, or actively hostile overseers. 4/5
I had very much the same reaction as @Thraeg to this one. To quote my own review:
A book about the love life of a movie star is well outside my normal wheelhouse and seemed like it could easily descend into insubstantial Hollywood glamor wish fulfillment. But beyond that surface level, this is full of well-realized, relatable characters, and has some substance on topics of fame, love, and discrimination. Other than a few predictable twists and a somewhat weaker framing story, there’s not much I can take issue with. 4/5
Found my games book:
Heard a couple interviews with Harris about this book and it seems pretty interesting. Don’t have an Oculus (or any VR hardware) myself but I’ve certainly heard plenty about it.
For someone who is already interested in tech startup culture, the growth of virtual reality as a technology available to consumers, and how the business of big tech works…The History of the Future is a good read. If you don’t share one or more of those interests, it’s probably not for you, because it’s really long and the detail will probably bog you down.
I only rated it middling for several reasons. I felt the story could have been told in about half the pages - there’s a lot of interesting stories along the way, but were they all really necessary? I felt like the book tells only one side of the story in the later portion, when Palmer Luckey was being let go from Oculus. That may not be the author’s fault…he says early on that not everyone was accessible to him…but it still felt incomplete to me. And, as I said above, you need a pretty specific set of interests to stay engaged through all 500 pages. I have those interests, it worked for me, but it may not for others.