The Book Thread - March 2017

A few people mentioned Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt back in January and seemed to enjoy it, so I picked it up.

I… don’t think I liked it too much. It’s an English translation of a Dutch novel, and maybe the prose worked a lot better in whatever language they speak in Dutchland. The translation sort of flopped around between a lot of different point-of-view characters and then occasionally flew into third-person omniscient for a while and then back to send-person limited and then into first person sometimes… it was a mess. It didn’t help that I didn’t care much for the narrator of the audiobook version - his women all had an annoying, nasal quality that made them seem like whining harpies at all times, even when they were not written that way.

The book itself did have a number of things going for it: first, it was not afraid to “go there” as one Qt3er put it. You figure that the author will play it safe and give the main characters “plot armor”, but no… GRRM has nothing on this guy. It also seems to occasionally flirt with some clever things to say about the Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy (correlation vs. causality), but honestly it doesn’t do that great a job of it and I can point to a Rick & Morty episode that did it much better.

I took a break from reading for a couple of weeks because I had to come down after finishing The Expanse series. I did read some other sci-fi book but I barely remember it and it wasn’t very good.

I did just get this on sale though:

And holy shit is it good so far.

I am reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy at the moment. Almost half of the way there I am not (yet) understanding the voluminous critical acclaim. I do enjoy reading it, and it does have some very creative descriptions of scenery, but can’t say anything beyond that. I felt the same way about The Road too so maybe it’s just an author thing.

Finished A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab. A good, fun conclusion to her Colors of Magic fantasy trilogy. There are pirate ninjas. Lots of backstabbings and assassination attempts.

Currently reading Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer, sequel to Too Like the Lightning. Still not sure if this is a combination of sophomoric theology with an unhealthy adulation for aristocrats in general and the Marquis de Sade in particular, or if it’s something more profound and deeper. I’ve been assuming more profound and deeper because Palmer is a fine writer and a polymath and a university professor, but so far I haven’t found the depths. We shall see, however.

Took a break from The Name of the Wind to make a little detour into horror-town. I ended up reading I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid last night. It was a very competent horror story that is invested in talking about more things than just horror. I might pick up Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix next as I’m still hungry for spooks and it sounds fun.

I finished Metro 2033 and just picked up Metro 2034. I really enjoyed the first. I breezed through Nexus, which was good enough to get me started on the followup, Crux. One of the P&R topics mentioned Nexus, which is how I came across it. There are some interesting ethical issues therein.

p.s. Don’t forget, people, that links to Amazon will benefit Tom’s affiliate program.

Fascinating history of American comedy and the men and women who were the pioneers. It’s also full of juicy anecdotal material - a sort of Comedy Babylon. Some of the more interesting tidbits I’ve read so far:

Bud Abbott’s father owned one of the largest and most successful chains of burlesque houses on the East coast.

The Bloody Mary was invented by George Jessel as a hangover remedy. It was named for Ted Healey’s girlfriend, and when Healey found out he threatened to shoot Jessel.

Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll were getting heat for Amos 'n Andy as early as 1930, and to relieve the pressure started to hire African-American actors and comedians for the show. They eventually assembled the largest pool of Black talent of any other show of that era.

George Burns and Jack Benny were both convicted of possessing smuggled jewelry.

HItler ordered the deaths of the Three Stooges

Great stuff.

Actually read this last month and posted on my blog about it, but forgot to mention it here. House of Daniel by Harry Turtledove is subtitled “A novel of wild magic, the great depression, and semipro ball” and that about sums it up. I loved it, though your mileage may vary if you’re less of a fan of baseball, history, fantasy, and/or the Turtledove writing style than I. A large portion of Turtledove’s writing is alternate history and this is no exception, but on a smaller scale than usual. It’s pretty clear that he loves the idea of the semi-pro barnstorming era of baseball and has a lot of fun writing about it, with some magic thrown in basically just for the hell of it. Good fun.

Been on a Cyberpunk kick lately, so read the follow up to Neuromancer, Count Zero. My impressions are hard to give, because they are more mixed than I expected. I enjoyed the individual elements well, but collectively I’m not sure the main plot held together, in that there were several places with a leap of logic that I wasn’t sure was internally justified, mostly I think from the Marly subplot. That may have been as much my fractured and distracted reading, done as it was in the middle of a move and with a newborn.

I enjoyed Count Zero but likewise felt it was a little incoherent. It’s a novel of very distinct scenes more than continuity, is what it felt like to me.

Ok, whew, nice to know I’m not alone in that. Like I said, sub optimal reading conditions made it hard to tell if it was really the book, or me.

what are some of the highlights from your recent cyberpunk reads?

I think I’m going to finish Middlemarch this time. With great regret I have to say I don’t think it’s quite as good as I expected/hoped it would be. But what do I know, really?

I read it in high school, begrudgingly, and enjoyed it much more than I anticipated I would. Pretty good book.

Finished Pandora’s Star. A good book but, candidly, even though it is the first of a series, after 1000 pages I would have like a little more resolution to some of the plots and sub plots. And it ends with a literal cliffhanger…

Yes, but I was hoping it would dethrone Pride & Prejudice as my favorite novel in English. I don’t think it will.

I’ve read several things since the last thread but may not be able to remember them all. The ones I can are as follows

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson. (Who also writes as Lila Bowen, whose weird west books are why I got around to this one.) Originally had a fairly creepy cover painting of a woman, seen from behind, at a thoroughly unnatural 45 degree lean, against a stormy cornfield. The new cover is nowhere near as good. Anyway, this follows a teenage girl called “Dovey”, who lives in Savannah, Georgia, and loses her best friend in a particularly nasty hurricane. A year later, she’s practically a zombie sleepwalking through life under the influence of heavy antipsychotics. So she stops taking them and begins to see what’s really going on in Savannah since the storm. And it’s pretty creepy and original and nicely detailed.

nameless: a novel by Matthew Rossi. This seems to be an indie novel, possibly self published, and it does show in places - grammar/typographical errors and some passages (especially early on) where the language used makes it tough to tell which person is talking or acting. I was also a little skeptical of the “love at first sight” element of the main protagonists’ relationship. But all in all it’s a solid story about a fucked up family tree and self-taught magic, with light dollops of Cthulhu and comic book influences, and I look forward to reading the sequel. (This was recommended in Ken and Robin Consume Media, FWIW.)

Currently working on Kingfisher by Patricia McKillip. I’ve enjoyed other books of hers in the distant past but I’d kind of lost track of her as an author until I saw this recommended in Charles de Lint’s Books to Look Out For. It’s an interesting book, not quite like anything else I’ve read. The setting includes kings and sorcery and knights and also cell phones, cars, and seafood restaurants. There’s a mythological edge to a lot of what’s happening, but they’re also having all you can eat fish fries. (With maybe ritual significance?) I’m just enjoying the ride.

The Devil’s Star, Harry Hole police procedural. Harry is a usually unrepentant drunk but brilliant investigator. Good series…

Finished Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer. It’s not as bad as I feared. A worthy effort. But in the end I felt the enormous edifice of contrivance was too shaky to stand, and the forced attempts at justifying everyone’s positions just made all the main characters seem wrong and corrupt to me.

The fundamental notion that all this complicated intrigue is based on a bunch of super-elite leaders who can’t get it up unless they roleplay in a de-Sade brothel is just plain crazy. And the notion that war is a sort of pustulent swelling that has to be lanced from time to time with violent conflict is equally baseless. The particulars of the imminent conflict also made no sense to me. If Mitsubishi realizes everyone hates them because they’re greedy landlords, they can lower their rents and spend their resources somewhere apart from buying up real estate for a while. If the Cousins realize their voting system doesn’t work, they can reconstitute. If the Masons realize they are destabilizing the world with too many members, they can restrict entry for a while, if the Utopians realize that everyone hates them for their imbecilic Mars terraforming venture they can hold off on it till their tech level is higher. And if the Humanists and Europeans are so vile and corrupt as portrayed, well, yeah, they should just dissolve, but no one else would mind… Really the only characters I liked are some of the minor Masons like Martin and the Romanovans who are trying to hold everything together, because they’re the only honest ones who aren’t lying to themselves, to each other, and to the world at large.

In such a humorless and pretentious work, the presence of all these implausible and contrived elements works against the final achievement. And yet it’s always nice to read something that makes the effort to be profound, even if it doesn’t really succeed. So It’s a worthy effort, just not everything I’d hoped for.

There will be a second duology coming in the next few years, apparently recounting the history of the war the characters in the first two novels failed to prevent.

Finished The Age of Ice: A Novel, the debut from J.M. Sidorova (2013). It’s very good. It’s literary SF, perhaps most akin to The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, or even a little bit KSR’s The Years of Rice and Salt.

Ms. Sidorova, a working scientist, has been dormant since; I’m hoping for more but it’s nice to have a self-contained book, and not a endless churn of series.