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  #881  
Old 01 July 2018, 04:21 PM
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I've not actually finished any books in June that I didn't already mention... Odd, as I feel like I've had plenty of time to read.

This is partly because I've started reading Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, which is 900+ pages long and the first in a trilogy (The Baroque Cycle) that are all more or less the same size. It's got a theme rather than a plot, which is the early days of the Royal Society, the quarrel between Newton and Leibniz over who invented calculus, and 17th-century English and European politics in general, in particular the run-up to the Glorious Revolution. There is an awful lot in it!

The main characters are fictional (although I did just have to look up whether Daniel Waterhouse really was the founder of MIT - he's not, and the institute he's founding at the start isn't MIT) but a lot of the supporting characters are real. The history is rather exaggerated for swashbuckling and comic effect but it's well enough researched that it gives a general impression of believability, with some modern in-jokes added too. Lots of action set-pieces and historical philosophical musing. It jumps about in time a bit and switches between different groups of related characters - who I'm assuming will also appear in the follow-ups; I don't know yet how far this one is going to get in resolving the overall quarrel, or how much more history he might try to fit in. On the down side it's quite episodic and sometimes seems like just a string of events happening without a lot of reason. (But then, some of that is the history...)

So I've been reading that for most of the month, and haven't finished it yet. It's fun, so not a difficult read, but quite dense too. I have the rest of the series, and if I read them straight after this I suspect I won't read much else next month either.

The only other thing I started is Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker, which is interesting but hasn't gripped me enough yet to have got far into it, what with its somewhat avant-garde punk structure. It's not very long though, so I'll finish it before starting the next Baroque one.

The funny thing is, I'd thought I had seen a plagiarism scandal involving Kathy Acker a couple of years ago, in which somebody noticed that she'd "borrowed" large chunks of another book without crediting them, and then had tried to pass it off as a form of referential quotation or literary collage when challenged. But she died in 1997, long before I saw this story. So either it was a rehash of some old scandal (which doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere obvious, and must have been resolved without damaging her reputation), or I was confusing her with another similar writer. But I thought I remembered Acker because I almost read some of hers (probably this one, I guess) back in sixth form when I was reading people like Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz. Acker was also published by Picador at the time but I think I decided she looked a step too far for me at that point. So now I'm wondering if I misremembered the author I was looking at then, too. But I can't think of any other similar writers it might have been! Most likely the plagiarism story was about somebody completely unrelated and I got confused...
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  #882  
Old 01 July 2018, 06:32 PM
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Our manager gave us all copies of The Big Five for Lifeby John P. Strelecky. I had to stop reading it due to nausea caused by reading the book. Its in the same style as Chicken Soup for the Soul (first book was okay, but it got old fast).

Much better was Croc Attack! by Assaf Gavron. It really made me want to learn more about the situation there. I was a bit put off by the switching viewpoints, but it's necessary for this story.
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  #883  
Old 06 July 2018, 07:50 PM
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Just finished Jonathan L. Howard's sequel to his first Lovecraftian novel, Carter & Lovecraft: After the End of the World. I was hooked on Howard with the first book in his Johannes Cabal series, and Carter & Lovecraft absolutely cemented my admiration for him. After the End of the World completely lives up to his standards, to being a worthy sequel, and to the title. Howard writes in the horror genre with real deftness, and mixes in a good and proper amount of humor. Very readable, very entertaining, and the books are worthy entries into the Lovecraftian sub-genre.

I need to finish the last couple of Johannes Cabal books that my library didn't have, and find his YA series, the "Katya's World" or "Russalka" series. Not in my library system, and not e-books. I may have to purchase *gasp* physical copies!
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  #884  
Old 09 July 2018, 04:41 AM
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I finished Tim Powers’ Declare over the weekend. Powers always does a lot of research into the time periods and folklore he incorporates into his books, and it’s on full display here. I only found one error where he still has Pope Pius XII alive in 1963. The book timeskips a lot between the “present” of ‘63 and earlier events, and I think maybe Powers had moved the off-scene Vatican visit around, because it would have made perfect sense if it had occurred in 1948 prior to the Ararat expedition. Other than that one misstep, everything else is well documented. I never would have guessed that Powers could have gotten so much mileage out of the repeated occurrence of foxes in St. John Philby and Kim Philby’s lives. Declare is in the Secret History genre rather than alternate history since Powers does not allow himself to change known events, people, or dates. It's impressive how he seamlessly inserts the supernatural into the Great Game and later Cold War/Le Carré style espionage and geopolitics. I finally realized what Operation Declare’s long game was, but not much before it was revealed during the Beirut debrief about three quarters of the way through the book. Honestly, I probably should have picked up on it sooner, since I had a clear memory of those events on the news. Although the supernatural elements have been compared to Lovecraftian horrors, they really are derived more from The Thousand and One Nights and Gilgamesh. References to both of these works are everywhere, especially “The Fisherman and the Genie” and the depressing Sumerian afterlife of clayed meat and dust. I’m disappointed in myself that I repeatedly failed to pick up on the William Ashbless reference even though it was right in front of my nose. FYI Ashbless is a Regency era poet invented by Powers and steampunk author James Blaylock while they were in college. Powers reliably mentions Ashbless in all of his books, usually as quotes from his poems or, in the case of The Anubis Gates, as one of the characters. I spent all of Declare looking for a quote or a name-drop, and it was right there in Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga’s name all along. I cannot do enough facepalms, although maybe would be more apt. "Oh fish, are you constant to the old covenant?" All those years of Spanish, and it’s not like this was particularly obscure.

I’m about halfway through Adam Hochschild’s Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. I know a little bit about the war, but I’ve never covered it in any depth, so most of the information is new. As the title indicates, it mostly focuses on the International Brigades. IIRC at one point, Hochschild mentioned that the Nationalist forces, while better supplied by the Nazis and Fascists, were still not that competent a military. Based on what I now know of the undersupplied and undertrained Republican forces, that has to be true, because the Republican troops were at one point being supplied by the Stalinists with outdated weapons, sometimes without appropriate bullets. And yet somehow the Nationalists were not able to take Madrid, despite being given the latest German and Italian weapons and supplied with oil by Texaco. I’m currently midway through 1937, and while it’s an interesting and informative read, I’m not sure “enjoyable” is the right word for it. It’s certainly not going to end well.

So, once I finished Declare, I was undecided as to what fiction book to start next. I was leaning toward N. K. Jemisin’s Stone Sky, since then I’d complete the trilogy and I find the world and characters fascinating. However, based on the end of book 2, I think I know what the most likely end for the protagonist is, and if I’m right, it’s pretty grim. The Spanish Civil War is dark enough, so I decided to push Stone Sky back a bit, and go with something cheerful and frothy. Specifically, A. Lee Martinez’s Chasing the Moon, a book about the eldritch apocalypse. No, it’s not as horrifying as it sounds, but it is that weird. Pro-tip: when someone offers you a super-low rent on a furnished apartment with paid utilities and doesn’t require you to sign a lease, be careful. You might find yourself locked in with the transdimensional horror amd voracious omnivore Vom the Hungering.

Last edited by Cure the Blues; 09 July 2018 at 04:53 AM.
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  #885  
Old 02 August 2018, 02:39 AM
Jusenkyo no Pikachu Jusenkyo no Pikachu is offline
 
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I’ve been re-reading The Princess Bride. It’s been a while since I last read it (and I finally have the one with Buttercup’s Baby), so I’m picking up on all the things I missed.

Also, I found this hilarious fanfic: The Tangled Princess Bride, which not only replaces the characters, but also adds in elements from Tangled (and even then mixes it up a little with things like Rapunzel now living in Andalasia, the kingdom from Enchanted, which is now enemies with Rapunzel’s actual homeland Corona).
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  #886  
Old 02 August 2018, 08:57 AM
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I did read a few new books in July, mostly short, at the expense of getting on with the Baroque cycle:

Love by Angela Carter: She has more early novels that I've not read than I'd realised. This was great, albeit somewhat depressing and inevitable. It's about a sort-of love triangle relationship between a woman, her husband and his brother. (Her sun and moon). If you didn't want to start with one of her later ones with too much magic realism, this might be a good starting point for her books. There's still a lot of fairy tale imagery and magical thinking but the actual events of the plot are realistic. It's also quite short.

(I re-read an Order of the Stick book to recap some past plot, but that only took a couple of hours...)

Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt: This is the first of my friend Will's new series of children's books, about a boy called Jake who accidentally comes into possession of a supernatural artefact that's being sought after by various forces, and has to escape and sort things out. (The series hook is that in the course of doing so, by the end he's registered to work at the Embassy in the title). This description sounds generic - partly because I was being vague to avoid giving much away - but I really enjoyed it, as usual. It's funny and exciting. It's aimed at slightly older children than Will's Mabel Jones series - maybe 10+. (Not that adults can't read it too; lots of adults read the first Harry Potter without embarrassment, after all, and it's for a similar age group).

Also, one that The Guardian sent me unexpectedly because I'm at the subscriber level which gets sent free books occasionally, and which jumped to the top of my pile thanks to current events:

Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House by Luke Harding. This started off disappointing, because to set up some of the background Harding keeps going off on tangents about random Russian people and it's hard to keep track and remember why you're supposed to care about them (since not all Russians are venal and not all contact with Russians is suspect). But it gets better as he moves away from Carter Page to Manafort, and then gets to Trump himself. It's mostly a recap of things already reported, rather than anything new, but it's a good summary and there's detail and background here that I'd not read before.

It's also been overtaken slightly by recent events (which might be why The Guardian hurriedly sent it out), what with Trump and Putin in Finland, and with Cohen confirming that Trump knew about Donald Jr.'s campaign "adoption" meeting, but that just continues the theme! In fact Trump said very similar things before at the G20 summit, where he made similar remarks about believing Putin on the hacking and slagged off the FBI, and then had to backtrack, but it was less prominently reported (although reported in Russia, apparently) since he wasn't actually standing next to Putin at a press conference at the time, and there was all the other G20 fallout to deal with as well. If you wanted to look at that charitably, it also fits with Trump's apparent pattern of simply believing the last person with conviction that he spoke to... which doesn't make him any more suitable for high office.

I'm still reading The Confusion, the second volume of the Baroque Cycle, but I'm not very far in. (I'm just going from the first part of Book 4 to the first part of Book 5 - its structure is headed unusually in that Book 4 and Book 5 are interleaved; not an unusual structure as such but it's unusual to actually label it that way). Also this is one of the books that got soaked in my rucksack during a rainstorm a few days ago, so it's a bit crinkly at the front.

And I've read the first page or two of The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, which I've been meaning to read for a while. Her books are often quite dense and depressing, so I hope it will be interesting and informative too.
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  #887  
Old 01 September 2018, 05:01 PM
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I don't know how, but I managed not to finish a single book during August. This is despite having a couple of long train journeys and a week at home with my parents that should have been ideal times to read without distraction.

I did just finish Aoyade on Aoyade: A Cinematic Odyssey by Richard Ayoade, which I bought with some birthday money, but it's September now so I missed the end of August... In it Richard Ayoade pretends to interview himself about his career as an actor and director, but with an absurd surrealist persona. This is the sort of book I regret reading because although it was pretty funny and I like Richard Ayoade, to an extent it's a bit of a throwaway joke and it doesn't feel like I've really read anything.

I've also been reading some Edith Pearlman short stories, Binocular Vision, but haven't quite got to the end yet. They're good; lots of nice character pieces and subtle writing. But being short stories, no overarching narrative to grip you.

Apart from that, I'm still on The Baroque Cycle (The Confusion), and The Shock Doctrine. To be fair the Neal Stephenson is long, but it's not gripping me like he usually does either. And Naomi Klein always needs a bit of concentration and is quite depressing.

Maybe I'm just bored in general...
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  #888  
Old 02 September 2018, 03:19 AM
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Reading a Leonard Bernstein biography by Meryle Secrest. It's pretty good, but the author has the annoying habit of describing people by using quotations that are actually about totally different people. I think she meant it as a means of adding gravitas, but it comes off more like a high school sophomore trying to pad out an English paper when they don't have enough relevant research material. One example:

Quote:
The truth was, Bernstein at that period was "young, happy, radiant, extraordinarily endowed and irresistibly attaching," as Henry James said of the the English poet Rupert Brooke.
WTF? Alone, it's a bit of a bizarre non sequitur. Used repeatedly, it's a strange and annoying literary device.
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  #889  
Old 02 September 2018, 10:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
I did just finish Aoyade on Aoyade: A Cinematic Odyssey by Richard Ayoade...
Bah, how did I manage to misspell Ayoade twice in the title, even though I was being careful not to and spelled it right everywhere else? It's Ayoade on Ayoade.
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  #890  
Old 02 September 2018, 07:21 PM
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I started reading a biography of Ibn Khaldun. And then I put it down and now I have no idea where it is. My place isn't that big, but I've reached the point where I'm looking in kitchen cabinets for the damn thing. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to cough up twenty bucks or so to the local library system. Also, the fifteen pages I read were decent.

I also started Ann Applebaum's Iron Curtain, which is good, but probably more in-depth than I want. Not her fault, obviously, but after reading a bit I start to wonder, "Am I really going to remember next week how radio in Poland in 1948 differed from radio in Hungary in 1948?" Still, a decent read.


I checked out 1688 from the library on my kindle, so I also have that. I assume it eventually gets into the Glorious Revolution, but it's a history of the world in that year, so it goes through Mexico, and South America, and then heads west before reaching Europe. This one might have the opposite problem of the Applebaum book, where everything is touched on a little too briefly, and I want a bit more depth.


Dammit, why can't historians just figure out exactly how much information I need and then deliver it to me?
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  #891  
Old 15 September 2018, 08:20 PM
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I recently finished Rogue Protocol, Martha Wells’ latest installment in her Murderbot Diaries. This is the next-to-last in a 4-part novella series about a SecUnit/security android that disabled its corrupted governor module which forced Murderbot into a killing spree. Ordinarily the trope is that a disabled governor control on an AI/robot/android = bad, and in the soap/space opera media serials so popular in the Murderbot universe, this still holds true. However, Murderbot is really socially awkward and just wants to spend time alone watching the aforementioned soap/space operas with same level of devotion that I give over to Parks & Rec and Brooklyn 99. In the 2nd novella, Artificial Condition, one of the disgruntled bots wanted to kill all humans and Murderbot was appalled. Who then would make the media serials? The next episode of “The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon” isn’t going to make itself after all. I really love these novellas, and the first one, All Systems Red, recently and IMO well-deservedly won a Hugo, but Tor is selling them at a fairly high price of $10. The last novella, Exit Strategy, is coming out next month, so presumably they’ll soon all be gathered up in omnibus form. I also recently learned that Wells is going to do a full-blown Murderbot novel, which pleases me greatly.

I also started the final book in NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, The Stone Sky. I really enjoy this series, but heads up that it is dark and brutal. So, without heading into spoiler territory, this is set in a world that is extremely geologically unstable. Periodically there are earthquakes/supervolcanos that have convulsions with global effects that can last for years. So, acid rainstorms, toxic gases, or a fungal blight that wipes out the main subsistence crop. These periods are termed Fifth Seasons, and the adaptations to get through a Fifth Season have led to a dystopian society that exploits and dehumanizes the people who can control geological phenomena. Lore seems to indicate that there’s a Father Earth that is furious at the inhabitants, and the Fifth Seasons are his way of killing everyone, but it’s hard to say how much of that is true and how much is people rationalizing why these events keep happening. I hope The Stone Sky ultimately provides some illumination as to what is actually going on. Stone Sky won this year’s Hugo for best novel, which is unusual for a third book in any series, but especially so because the previous two books have also won. Good for Jemisin. She got a lot of mileage from the NASA SF writers’ workshop that she attended that inspired the magic system used in the series.

I’m also reading John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup about Elizabeth Holmes’ unicorn tech company Theranos and its fall. I actually started the book just in time for the company to dissolve last week and finally become a headlined unicorpse. Carreyrou wrote the first critical expose about the company that started its downfall. I’ve been aware of the Theranos scandal through Derek Lowe’s In the Pipeline blog and the first thing that hit me as suspicious was the Board of Directors. Very few science experts and...ummmm….some interesting other people, like George Shultz, James Mattis, Sam Nunn, Bill Perry, and Henry Kissinger (OK, my absolute first thought was that I had thought that Kissinger was dead). This Board would be fine if you’re planning on ordering a drone strike on Quest Diagnostics, or if you’re making a botched diagnostics product and you don’t want a Board with enough experts to start questioning you on: why you don’t have any regulatory experts working with the FDA?; why is the rollout of a supposed finished product always delayed?; why hasn’t Theranos had a chief financial officer since 2006? The company also had a truly toxic work environment where if you questioned the performance of the Edison or miniLab or the ethics of rolling out a faulty diagnostics product to patients, you were marginalized or fired. This after-the-fact so-that's-what-happened NPR article indicates that Theranos PR reps were under specific orders to obscure just how bad the devices were working during the Walgreens debut. A lot of Theranos' staff outright quit because it only took a couple months for the blinders to be ripped off. The chemistry and engineering departments were siloed because Holmes had a Steve Jobs fixation, and if it worked for Apple, it surely will work for a company working on diagnostics machines. Fie on the ancient Bell Labs approach of having all the departments working cooperatively towards a single goal and communicating with each other. George Shultz’s grandson Tyler was working in the chemistry division of the company and had a ringside seat to just how awful the Edison machines were performing as well as a lot of other chicanery going on with patient samples. So he notified the NY Board of Public Health, and tried to warn off his grandfather, who then proceeded to side with Holmes. Seriously, WTF, Shultz? I know you’re in your 90s and you don’t have a good handle on the scientific details, but this is your grandson, who explained exactly what was going on. And the Theranos board had the high-priced lawyer David Boies, who has a vested interest in keeping Theranos afloat and will therefore make the lawsuits as maximum damage as possible.
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  #892  
Old 03 October 2018, 02:21 PM
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I gave up (temporarily) on everything I'd been reading last month and anything new on my shelf, and I've been re-reading Iain M Banks's science fiction novels, just to make sure I still enjoy reading.

I've been reading in order of publication, and have just finished Against A Dark Background, so that's Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, Use of Weapons, The State of the Art (short stories) and Against A Dark Background so far.

I've read them all before, often more than once, but not for a while - and it's the first time I've read them all together like this, so it's interesting. All except AADB and TSOTA are Culture novels - and TSOTA contains mostly Culture stories, including the title novella. (Sorry about abbreviations, but the titles are too long to keep typing).

I'd not consciously noticed the development in style before - I think his science fiction is consistently good - but reading them back-to-back there are a few changes between Consider Phlebas, and the stories in TSOTA (some of which I'd describe as "juvenilia") and the slightly later ones. I don't think he'd quite worked out everything he wanted to do with the Culture during CP, although it's almost there. He skips several hundred years between that and TPOG, though, and I think that was so that he could tweak some of the politics and technology involved without its being obvious. CP is set during the last major war that the Culture was involved in, the Idiran war, whereas in all the later novels it's a very stable, very high-tech society that doesn't have many major outside threats. I'd forgotten that there was an appendix to CP that sets it all out on an Earth timescale (for no particular reason, since most of his books have nothing to do with Earth) and it was all happening around the 12th Century AD. I'm not sure why he needed to put that in unless it was just the fashion for science fiction as history at the time (like Star Wars); but the 700 year jump means that the title story for TSOTA can be set on Earth in 1977 (... like Star Trek?). But I don't much like that one.

He's also got more obvious Douglas Adams influence in CP than in later ones (although Marvin the Paranoid Android makes a subtle cameo appearance in AADB which I remembered when I got to it). Some of the lesser starship AIs (not minds in that one) talk as though they were written by Douglas Adams.

There's no plot continuity between the Culture novels - one of the later ones does refer back to events in the Idiran war but obliquely (Look to Windward, hence the titular connection with Consider Phlebas) - and few recurring characters. I'd not noticed last time I read them that Diziet Sma and the drone Skaffen-Amitskaw from Use of Weapons are also main characters (narrators) in TSOTA too, but there's no other connection between the books and no indication which was even written first - I suspect the short story, although it was published later.

The novels are all great, although I don't like the more experimental short stories. He's better when he's not trying to be particularly literary or experimental, I think. (I've read his poetry too, and thought it was awful). I think UOW is still one of my favourites. AADB is great too, although one of his few SF novels that isn't connected to the Culture.

Quite a few of my favourite moments from the books, including a lot of things making it explicit just how impressive the Culture's abilities and technologies are, haven't come up yet. So I'm tempted to keep reading through the rest... really I should get back to the books I've been stuck on, though.

Last edited by Richard W; 03 October 2018 at 02:27 PM.
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  #893  
Old 14 October 2018, 02:00 AM
Jusenkyo no Pikachu Jusenkyo no Pikachu is offline
 
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I just finished Girltopia by Hilary Rogers. It’s not awful, but I do have some issues:

First off, it’s the first book in what I believe is going to be a trilogy. Trouble is, there’s no indication about that and as a result you’re left expecting a resolution that never comes.

Second, the main character is being set up to be a take-charge girl, and I’m just not seeing it. She has the typical Judy Blume issues about getting her period and divorced parents (and how cool her family friend is), and there’s a sequence where she notes that her best friend has started to develop before she has.

Third, for a book where all the males in Melbourne are suddenly struck down, absolutely nothing is made of expectant mothers or trans women. I probably shouldn’t expect that in YA fiction, but the horrifying implications aren’t even covered on a news broadcast.
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