The Book Thread - April 2013

So. This Daniel Abraham guy. Fucking fantastically talented.

First encountered him in the context of his cowriting the Leviathan’s Expanse series as one half of James S.A. Corey - gripping SF, cool ideas, well written characters. Then checked out the urban fantasy he writes as M.L.N. Hanover (why so many pen names? Got me) and that was some beautiful stuff, paced perfectly with a steady drip feed of hints and resolved mysteries, with scary villains and well rounded characters. And now I’m working on the second of his Long Price fantasy quartet (almost the only things he’s written under his own name.) The first book was a fantastic setting establisher (pseudo-Asian formal culture with an elaborate gestural system of subtext to interactions and powerful demigod-like “andat” who are concepts made unwilling flesh and wrangled by poets) with plenty of intrigue and deep emotion. The second, A Betrayal in Winter, is like a Shakespearean tragedy, with a complex web of betrayal and deceit inexorably unfurling, forced by the ambitions, emotions, and relationships of the characters. The character of Idaan in particular feels rather Lady Macbeth to me, stifled by the woman’s role in her society and driving those around her into murder and social climbing.

OK, so I’ve really enjoyed both books of the “Expanse” series and thought I had found a cool new author in James Corey… but he’s actually two people? Daniel Abraham and ???

LMGTFY…Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Reading Shadowheart, kind of slow moving for the climax of a 4 book series…

I had heard that Lee Child’s Reacher series takes a while to get up to speed so I was pleasantly surprised when the first book, The Killing Floor, sucked me right in. Sadly, it did not last. I’m now bogged down at 67% (Thanks Kindle) and forcing myself to slog through the rest so I can get onto something else. I may try some of the other books in the series at some point but I’m in no rush.

On my lunch break I’m reading Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280. This is the third book I’ve read by Thompson so I was a bit surprised at the comedic tone and the start of the book. By the mid-point the book had shifted to Thompson’s more traditional dark tone. I think I would have loved this book if it just kept getting darker and more uncomfortable straight through to the end but it kind of plateaued and the second half has been pretty conventional.

I recently finished Fair Coin and had a great time with it. Now I’m 90% of the way through the sequel Quantum Coin, and I’m thoroughly sick of it.

The issue is that the first book worked pretty well when it treated the coin as magic, or at least technology-as-magic, and concentrated on the characters and a plot that didn’t depend too much on science. The second delves into quantum mechanics, or rather E.C. Myer’s complete misunderstanding of quantum mechanics, and the more physics enters into it, the dumber and less interesting the book gets. We’re talking Hollywood Script Writer levels of bad science.

Bad science doesn’t have to interfere with story telling, but when it’s crucial to the plot, the core of the crisis and how the characters must resolve it, it’s a real problem. With Quantum Coin, it gets to the point where every time the characters discuss what they must do next, it’s ridiculous.

Daniel Abraham’s website has his three pen names as the three navigation tabs which I find hilarious.

DA: I know that I have a kind of idiosyncratic relationship with pseudonyms. I really decided to branch out that way when I was looking at branching out from doing the epic fantasies like The Long Price Quartet into the urban fantasy project. It seemed to me–and still does–that a lot of what makes a literary project, whether it’s a book or a series, is meeting the reader’s expectations. Someone coming from the Long Price books would, I figured, be expecting something at least kind of like that again. The Black Sun’s Daughter books were intentionally a totally different project. They’ve got a different scope, a different voice, and a different set of conventions, so I wanted to signal to folks to expect something different. The name of that author seemed like the best way to do that. The metaphor I use is that sometimes when you’re out at a restaurant, you might forget you ordered a Coke and think it’s iced tea. The best Coke in the world is still terrible iced tea.

For M.L.N. Hanover, I was trying to keep the gender ambiguous, and using initials is the standard way to do that. I figured everyone has two initials, so I figured having three would stand out. MLN doesn’t spell anything, so they seemed good. The H shelf on the fantasy section had Laurel K. Hamilton and Charlene Harris, so it seemed like a new urban fantasy title had a decent chance of being noticed there. In practice, that was mostly superstition, though. I can’t say the shelf space thing had any effect.

James S. A. Corey is a pseudonym for me and a friend of mine, Ty Franck. We grabbed each of our middle names and put my daughter’s initials in the middle. With that project, we wanted to kind evoke the 1970s science fiction that we grew up on, and it seemed to fit.

The Long Prince series is sublime. Recommended for fans of good books, even if you generally never like fantasy.

Only a few writers can pull of science fiction that deals directly with real quantum physics. Greg Egan comes to mind.

I still admire the narrative trick of having every single chapter (there are, what, 20+) from the perspective of a different character and still tell a coherent story.

I picked up The Tipping Point: How Little Things can Make a Big Difference (Malcolm Gladwell, audiobook version, narrated by the author) to have a non-fiction, non-military history book to listen to in the car while we drove to Atlanta last week. The goal was to pick something that both I and the other passengers (SWMBO and MiL) would find interesting. This fit the bill nicely and turned out to be a big hit even with my teenager.

The book spoke of how “epidemics” tend to go from a low-level, slowly-growing phenomena to a massive, fast-growing event due to some relatively small-scale changes in environment, content, or vectors… but the book uses “epidemic” as a generic noun that applies to marketing campaigns, the popularity of TV shows, fads, etc., not just diseases (though the book uses several diseases as case-studies). The author/narrator does a good job of laying out his case, and he manages to make some very good points about looking at world events from a different angle. As is also important in non-fiction books like this, the author also squeezes in the results of a number of interesting studies (both scientific and otherwise) that introduce some other cool factoids only peripherally-related to the main thesis of the book, and that manages to spice up what would otherwise eventually turn fairly dry. The individual case-studies (e.g., the crime wave in NYC during the 80s) all made pretty good stories by themselves, which certainly helped.

This is actually a pretty old book, as it turns out – it was written in the late 90s, published in 2000, and I guess revised in the mid-2000s. The main body of the book doesn’t sound too dated, though every once in a while he will mention “this recent study that just came out in 1996” or something. But after the main book he added a new section (about 45 minutes of narration, so another 10%) where he discusses the teenage school-shooting epidemic that started with Columbine, and then he goes in to discuss how the newly ubiquitous tool of email fits into the overall theme of the book… and both those subjects felt very dated, especially since the post-script section described them as newly-breaking news.

Anyway, a fun non-fiction book. My wife actually found herself using some of the themes at work.

That must be a different one. Pop. 1280 is actually very similar to The Killer Inside Me only with an unreliable narrator. It’s all told from his perspective, though.

Malcolm Gladwell’s next next book, Overfull.
Malcolm Gladwell’s next book, The Power of Several.

Confession: I enjoyed Tipping Point too.

Currently reading #9 (The Last Detective) of Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series and am really, really enjoying them. The first several books are great but follow a certain formula and then in #7 he starts to experiment a little with characters, and in #8 he starts to experiment even more seriously with plot, story and voice. You don’t see that kind of development very often so late in a series, unless they are about to go nuclear and/or mutant in some way. Usually that kind of change happens earlier in a series or author’s evolution, in my experience, and it often doesn’t work out very well. But Crais was/is clearly learning from experience and developed the series and stories/characters quite well. Anyway, excellent series and author. Highly recommended.

Wow, you’re right. I distinctly recall a book set in a small town, in which different characters narrate each succeeding chapter, and I was sure it was Pop.1280 - but I’m clearly mistaken. I wonder what book I was thinking of?

Here’s an interesting biographical feature on Thompson. I had no idea about the Kubrick connection.

Just finished And the devil will drag you under by Jack L. Chalker. I think I’ve reached my Chalker limit for now, but it was readable. While I was a little worn down by more of the simulation theory theme that Chalker goes for, at least this one had some Chthlulu or whatever that Lovecraftian jiggery pokery is called, shaking things up.

And the Devil Will Drag You Under is fairly early Chalker, and thus readable. Yes, he did later in his career go back to the well one too many times with some of the ideas in the book, but this was back when he was doing moderately interesting things with them, rather than the tired sexual fetishes that were his eventual devolution. It’s like the first three Well of Souls books that way.

I’m late to the game, but I’m devouring the entire Wool series on my Kindle now. Just can’t put them down, and the first one’s free…

Just wanted to point out that I finished the last Long Price book and holy hell. What a phenomenal achievement. I confess to enjoying a lot of the big sprawling never-ending fantasy epics that have become in vogue, but with the Long Price Quartet Daniel Abraham demonstrates that there is considerable value to knowing exactly what story you want to tell and doing so in a measured and deliberate way. Each volume is essentially a self-contained story distinct in themes and type of plot, but they come together to form, essentially, the tale of one exceptional man’s life and key events for both him and his world.

On my TBR pile. Glad it’s good.

Finished Shadowheart, I enjoyed the tetralogy.

Started The Lion.

Just finished reading The Lady tasting Tea

It was surprisingly good. Think of it as a cross between cryptomonicon & Game Change but not as exciting. Still if you like math and Stat’s and real life drama, it’s a good read. Some of those early Stat’s people were real characters. Plus I’ve always liked the story of the t-test and Guinness, which the book covers a bit