Qt3 2019 Reading Challenge


Progress 6/52

I fell behind this month thanks to a brief obsession with the Warhammer Champions card game taking over most of my phone time, but am trying to get back on track.

I liked this one, though maybe not to the same extent as some of the praise I’ve seen for the series. There’s a bit of a jarring disconnect between what I thought I was getting (grounded, hardscrabble asteroid-belt-as-wild-west setting) and the eventual emergence of the zombies and incomprehensible ancient alien technology tropes. Still generally enjoyable, and I’m open to continuing the series even it it isn’t rocketing to the top of my priority queue. 3.5/5


And here’s my tentative plan for March:

This got talked up in the Red Dead Redemption 2 thread, and piqued my interest.

I don’t actually remember who recommended this to me, but I saw it on my goodreads “to-read” shelf when scanning through for anything with a connection to movies, and it has pretty good reviews, so what the heck.

Probably a good excuse to check out a graphic novel. Maybe Saga if I don’t sneak it in this month, or one of Digger, Fun Home, The Best We Could Do, or Daredevil: Man Without Fear, which were the recommendations on the Qt3 Slack.

Much of politics seems driven by fear, distortions, and outright lies, and this sounds like an interesting attempt to look at cognitive biases underlying that.

Yay for adulting. Not likely to be fun, but hopefully informative.


I realize the month isn’t totally done yet, but I think I’m done for reading, or at least books I will be able to complete. For February, I read two books! I’m ahead of the game. Sure, they were both on the short side, but still! First, I read Harlan Ellison’s screenplay of the episode of Star Trek that he wrote, City on the Edge of Forever:

And I read through the book, with all its various commentaries and drafts of the episode, and I’m really glad I did. I always enjoy getting a peek into the creative process, and learning how one of my favorite Star Trek episodes came to be was pretty satisfying. But then when I was done, I realized I was only haflway through February - I should keep it going! So I choose a book of short stories by another of my favorite authors - Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts:

This one is pretty great. I find Watts’ coldly analytical perspective on mankind’s place in the world and the greater universe is a splash of cold water, and an effective counterpoint to the relatively utopian perspective of Trek (even as written by Ellison). The two made a good team of work, I highly recommend both books.

For March, I was going through my Kindle library and realized I had picked up a copy of Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, and that will probably come next. Not sure how long it will take me to get through or if I’ll be able to squeeze in a second book. If not, I think I have April’s book lined up too, the third book in the Southern Reach trilogy, Jeff Van Der Meer’s Acceptance. I read the first two last year then just kind of drifted off a short way into the third. I need to finish reading it so I can finally see the film version of Annihilation.


Progress: 8/52

This is Folding Beijing, a novellete by Chinese author Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu. Very short, but after the Robotech series, I needed a quick hitter to finish out the month. Plus I watched the entire Librarians TV series this month, which cut into reading time!

Folding Beijing is all about economic inequality, which isn’t uncommon in dystopia fiction, but it’s rare that a story captures so clearly the motivations and actions of each of the upper/middle/lower class tiers. I wrote a bit more here:

If you haven’t read it yet, I absolutely recommend it, and you don’t even need to go hunt it down: just click here!


I finished Gnomon. I really enjoyed it. I would describe it poorly as taking elements of Brazil abd Inception, and yet still being very much its own thing. It is definitely one of those books where a lot of the fun comes from trying to figure out what is going on, and it has a lot of “omg whaaaat” moments, especially near the end, so if you hate that stay far away.

I also read the latest in the Wayfarer series by Becky Chambers. Like her other books, it is a great read that provides one of the few essentially optimistic outlooks on life in a futuristic space context. Light but not fluffy, if that makes sense.

And looking at my last entry I am reminded to check out more of Nnedi Okorafor’s work.


I had no particular brainstorms about which books to read for March, so I thought…why not just stop at the library and see what catches my eye? This was a profoundly stupid idea, because 5 minutes at the New and Recommended displays yielded about two dozen books that looked awesome. I applied willpower to get it down to 5. What I ended up with is this:

I dunno! My fifth book doesn’t fit the theme (see below). I’m gonna do the others then come back to this later in the month.

There was a film about Thurgood Marshall a couple of years ago. I haven’t seen it, but they had it at the library right by the book, so I thought…hey, that’s close enough to a Movie theme! (I will likely get the movie, too, after reading the book.)

Terry Brooks wrote a sci-fi novel? All of us nerds know his fantasy from Shannara, of course, but I had no idea he did this sci-fi book. Had to grab it.

The hollowing out of the administrative state under President Trump has been an underreported story, in my opinion. I’d heard this book referenced, but never went so far as to put it on my reading list. It jumped out at me when I saw it on the recommendations shelf, though.

OK, this one is a stretch, but nuclear power is very technical, right? The jacket blurb looked incredibly interesting: a former chairman of the nuclear regulatory commission gives us an inside view of the nuclear power industry. It sounds pretty pessimistic, to be honest, but I absolutely had to learn more once I looked at the blurb.

You’ll notice there’s a fifth book there, but I absolutely cannot make it fit into the Games category. So I’m gonna get through these then figure out which Game book I want to do. The book, in case you can’t tell, is:

I’m a sucker for anything by Turtledove, alternate history is amazing and he’s a master. A world dominated by an advanced Middle East, trying to stem a violent tide from a backward and impoverished Europe? Yes please.


All of Terry Brooks’ Shannara books are sci-fi. Just saying.


Progress 7/52

Progress 8/52

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!


Progress: 9/52

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

Progress: 10/52

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.


Progress: 9/52

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. :)


Progress: 11/52

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.


Well, sorta.

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.


Progress: 10/52

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