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Old 01 July 2018, 04:21 PM
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Richard W Richard W is offline
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,023

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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Old 01 July 2018, 06:32 PM
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Die Capacitrix Die Capacitrix is offline
Join Date: 03 January 2005
Location: Kanton Luzern, Switzerland
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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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Old 06 July 2018, 07:50 PM
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Crius of CoH Crius of CoH is offline
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Location: Paragon City (Cranston), RI
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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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Old 09 July 2018, 04:41 AM
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Cure the Blues Cure the Blues is offline
Join Date: 31 July 2000
Location: Columbus, OH
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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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Old 02 August 2018, 02:39 AM
Jusenkyo no Pikachu Jusenkyo no Pikachu is offline
Join Date: 11 May 2003
Location: Queensland, Australia
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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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Old 02 August 2018, 08:57 AM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
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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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