Jump to content
Garett Hornwood

Second Quarter 2019 Reading

Recommended Posts

6 hours ago, IlyaP said:

Oh my glom. I'd not heard about this guy until you mentioned him (I'm not from Australia originally): 

"Years ago I wrote a novel in the voice of an Indigenous boy. It was not met well by Indigenous writers. I thought, then, anybody could speak for anyone else. They didn't think this. And they were right. Some stories are so cruelly intimate they can only be told by the people in them. The story of black Australia, told from the white side, lacks the blood and violin notes that are essential for the truth. Sometimes a story must be told by the victim to be told truly. This is why Victim Impact Statements are now included in criminal trials."

A writer who's thinking about the consequences and dignity of point of view! And he learns from his mistakes! He's a real boy, Geppetto!

Might be worth clarifying that the above quote is not attributable to Grant. Grant is Aboriginal, the author of the article that contains the above quote (Anson Cameron) is not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, Paxter said:

Might be worth clarifying that the above quote is not attributable to Grant. Grant is Aboriginal, the author of the article that contains the above quote (Anson Cameron) is not.

The SMH article I pulled that from, when I saw it, said he was the author at the end of the article - they could have done a better job clarifying that! Thank you for letting me know! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, IlyaP said:

The SMH article I pulled that from, when I saw it, said he was the author at the end of the article - they could have done a better job clarifying that! Thank you for letting me know! 

Yeah I agree it was confusing. And not a great article either!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read The Tiger’s Time, by Marc Alan Edelheit.  This is #4 in the Stiger’s Tigers series.  This series feels very similar to the Red Knight series by Miles Cameron, except with less magic, more tactics (less armor details) and with Roman legions instead of late medieval knights.  It’s ok but the series is running out of momentum.

Then I read The Immortals by Joanna Max Brodsky, which has a similar premise to Gaiman’s American Gods: ancient gods walk amongst us, diminished by the decline in belief.  It was OK, but I would not read any more of these.

Next was One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence.   Although we all know him for grimdark fantasy, this is a nerd coming of age novel set in 1980s with a SF aspect.  Although the jacket compares it to Ready Player One, the style, tone and characters are much more similar to David Mitchell novels like Black Swan Green and Bone Clocks.  Highly recommended.

Then I read Lake City by Thomas Kohnstamm, a novel/literary fiction about poverty traps, self-deception and entitlement.  Although that sounds heavy, it was written with some humor and not at all heavy handed.  Well worth a read.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Finished off Dante's Paradiso, and thus the Divine Comedy. Paradiso's a good deal less fun than Inferno and less satisfying than Purgatory, and, frankly, Dante weakened the piece by taking his politics to Heaven (it's fine in Hell and Purgatory, but a bit out of place here). Plus, I couldn't help but snigger at Emperor Justinian getting a place in Heaven. To modern eyes, it's rather like putting Stalin there. I am pleased I read the book though - it's got some gorgeous, if surreal, imagery.

Next up is Treatise on Vampires and Revenants, by Dom Augustine Calmet.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Finished listening to the audiobook version of James Donovan's A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - The Last Great Battle of the American West. Great, detailed account of the battle itself, as well the history leading up to the battle and its aftermath.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My blog reaction to reading Purgatorio and Paradiso this past month...

**

Yes, I have been a bit naughty. Years ago, I read J.D. Sinclair’s 1939 prose translation of Dante’s Inferno.. and then left it at that. Dante and Virgil clambering down Satan’s backside, and then up and out into Purgatory. The End. I was fully aware that this was only the first third of the Divine Comedy, but the impression I had always been given was that the next two books were much drier, and dare I say, boring. Besides, popular imagination has focused almost entirely on Dante’s Hell – culturally it is the most important part of the journey, even if in some respects its vision has become weirdly merged with Milton’s (hint: the deepest part of Dante’s Hell is a frozen lake, not fire and brimstone). I have previously had the fun of allocating George R.R. Martin characters there.

Anyway, I have now rectified this situation over the last month, working my way through Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise. Since these are the less well-trodden books, today I thought I would offer some thoughts on them. I would not presume to call this a review in the proper sense of the word – it’d be presumptuous in the extreme to “review” a seven hundred year-old cornerstone of Western literature (what next? giving Shakespeare marks out of ten?), but I can certainly offer some impressions as a first time reader. Overall, I would consider it a satisfying experience, and a decent insight into a medieval mindset quite different from our own.

(In both cases, the translation was Mark Musa’s).

(i) Purgatorio

Purgatorio starts with Dante and Virgil arriving at the island/mountain of Purgatory – located, curiously enough, in what we would today call the South Pacific (does this mean New Zealand gets a territorial claim…?). Whereas Inferno is a descent, Purgatorio is an ascent, as souls are gradually purged of the sins of Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust, in that order, before passing into the Earthly Paradise and thence to Heaven. As is normal for the Divine Comedy, Dante chats with the souls on each level, as they are getting purified – but unlike Inferno, there is no schadenfreude. Rather than punishment, this is a corrective purging, even if the actual mechanism isn’t actually that different on occasion (the treatment of Pride, Envy, and Lust would not be out of place in Hell).

The lack of schadenfreude and the replacement of punishment with correction makes Purgatorio a less fun read than Inferno. I also personally found the early stages of the ascent rather heavy-going, with multiple cantos devoted to each level. Fortunately, Purgatory – explicitly – gets easier the higher the climb, and by the end I think there is a genuine sense of aesthetic satisfaction. Purgatorio, being set on the Earth’s surface, is the only section of the Divine Comedy that interacts with time, and there are some lovely poetic descriptions of the geography. The high point (literally) for me was the gorgeous account of the Earthly Paradise, where we are treated to some delightfully bizarre commentary on the history of the Church, starring a griffon, an eagle, a fox, a dragon, a giant, and a prostitute (yes, really) . And a prophecy that people have been trying to figure out for centuries. And, of course, Beatrice, who will take over from Virgil as Dante’s guide for the rest of his journey.

For me, the weak point of Purgatorio was the character of Statius, a Roman poet, whom Dante turns into a Christian convert via poetic licence, and who has just completed his time in Purgatory when our protagonists meet him. Statius accompanies Dante and Virgil up the mountain, and into the Earthly Paradise, but he gets very little dialogue after his introduction, and it honestly feels like the poem forgets about him at various points – he’s a sort of invisible third wheel, who serves one purpose, and then outlives his welcome. But that’s a minor complaint. While I personally prefer Inferno, I can see why some prefer Purgatorio as their favourite book of the Divine Comedy.

(ii) Paradiso

Paradiso, Dante’s journey through Heaven, is the most ambitious and least user-friendly of the three stages, and I think most modern readers would be lost without accompanying notes and commentary. It is a journey through the Ptolemaic solar system, with each successive sphere – the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Fixed Stars, and the Primum Mobile – representing a different type of heavenly soul (note, that this is only a representation. It is clarified early on that this is a structural allocation put on for our protagonist’s benefit). From there, Dante transcends the physical universe, encounters the celestial rose (it makes sense in context), and in the culmination of the poem, glimpses the face of God.

Paradiso is the least read part of the Divine Comedy, and I can see why. Whereas Inferno is fun, and Purgatorio is satisfying, Paradiso feels like a lecture in scholastic theology, with some on-the-nose political commentary thrown in. There is less sense of concrete location than earlier books – which is understandable (Heaven is an altogether more ethereal place) – but makes the book tougher to get your teeth into. I thought Dante carrying his politics into Paradise was also a bit much. Inferno and Purgatorio are fair game for such shenanigans, since punishment and purging inherently lend themselves to such things, but the succession of heavenly souls expressing their displeasure at earthly affairs gets tiresome after a while. It was also morbidly hilarious encountering Byzantine Emperor Justinian on Mercury. To modern eyes, it is rather like putting Josef Stalin in Heaven.

That said, while I enjoyed Paradiso less than Purgatorio, it is not without its charms. The imagery can be gorgeously surreal at times, what with the celestial rose, and the Eagle of Justice on Jupiter (again, it makes sense in context). Some of the theological questions Dante considers are also genuinely interesting, in the sense of addressing questions of natural (un-)fairness. Early on, Dante even attempts to consider more scientific issues, like the cause of dark patches on the Moon.

So yeah… Paradiso. Not quite the incomprehensible slog I have seen it characterised as, but not exactly light reading either. That said, a large part of the problem is the nature of what Dante is attempting to describe. As has long been noted, Hell is simply a more interesting subject than Heaven, and Dante is himself fully aware that he is trying to portray concepts that are literally beyond mortal ken (one almost wishes for a Lovecraftian take on Paradiso…). Moreover, Heaven is inherently devoid of the engine of story, since by definition it lacks conflict. In Inferno and Purgatorio we see souls suffering, but there is no suffering in Paradiso, only serenity. Dante uses theological and political discussion to fill the void.

**

Overall, I would say that reading the full Divine Comedy has given me a much better grasp of what Dante was actually trying to achieve with his work. Sure, the horrors of Inferno make for genuinely fun reading, but it is a mistake to treat this as the whole story, unless you want to limit yourself to a fantastical visit to the cosmos’ ward for the criminally insane. The full work, the one that Dante actually intended people to read, is a medieval mind trying to tackle key questions about the human condition, and as such, it’s well worth the attempt.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm about half-way through Simon Morden's One Way. I'm enjoying it a lot. It's like The Martian, but with convicts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Peadar said:

I'm about half-way through Simon Morden's One Way. I'm enjoying it a lot. It's like The Martian, but with convicts.

I enjoyed it  more than The Martian myself.

But that was mainly because some chemistry related stuff 

Edited by Wolfgang I

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It took me three attempts to get to and trough Paradiso (but I started at the beginning Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita each time). I don't quite remember where I got stuck for the first time, probably somewhere in Purgatorio already, but I was still a teenager, I think. Next time was in my (early?) 20s and I got as far as the first few cantos of Paradiso before it became too boring and confusing. (My edition has annotations but not very comprehensive ones.)

Only about 20 years later in my early 40s about 3-4 years ago, so according to Dante already past del mezzo del cammin di nostra vita I made it all the way through. And now I am really a huge fan. I want to be able to read at least some of it in the original some day. Epic poetry usually loses quite a bit in translation (I got glimpses of this when translating parts of some of the Latin and Greek epics in school), the most appropriate way of experiencing it is loudly reciting it in the original, I think, and I guess that this is also one problem of Paradiso.

You got the other problems mostly covered. Hell is picturesque, often grotesquely funny and we can often understand why Dante thinks someone deserves such kind of punishment. This gets more difficult with the penitents on the mountain although here the philosophical/theological background/discourse is still fairly "down to earth". And as this is the most "realistic" setting we also get beautiful descriptions. Paradiso is the most abstract, the most catholic and the most medieval part. And of course Justinian is in Paradise. He was the last emperor who held East and Western Rome somewhat together, Dante thinks that the main problem of his time is the lack of a powerful monarch (he wrote a big Latin tractate on monarchy).

A few days ago I picked it up again Purgatorio without going through Hell before that but I'll probably stop at the earthly paradise or so.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 5/17/2019 at 3:47 PM, Wolfgang I said:

I enjoyed it  more than The Martian myself.

But that was mainly because some chemistry related stuff 

I just finished the sequel too. I liked that even better, although I'd be amazed if you can still hack a linux system in exactly the same way twenty years from now :)

The sequel is called No Way

After this, it's on to the Hugo Voter Packet with me...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

I finished James S.A. Corey's Tiamat's Wrath. I enjoyed it more than the previous book in the series, one of the things that was a bit disconcerting about Persepolis Rising was that it felt like the characters hadn't changed much in the decades since we had last seen them, but it did feel like there was a lot more character development this time round, particularly for Naomi and Elvi. Since this is the eighth book in a nine book series the story is moving towards its conclusion, there are many significant plot developments and the finale is a highlight which sets things up well for the final book in the series.

I then read Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars. I did like the book, I've always found the Space Race fascinating so it was interesting to read an alternate history version of it, although in this case the race is against potential extinction rather than against another nation. The book moved at a good pace although after the initial setup the development of the story did sometimes feel a bit predictable. I thought Elma was a likeable protagonist who did get some good character development through the story as she realises that as well as campaigning for changes that would benefit her she also has her own biases, although some of the supporting characters could perhaps have done with a bit more development.

Next up I think I'll read Rebecca Roanhorse's Trail of Lightning.

Edited by williamjm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, Peadar said:

I just finished the sequel too. I liked that even better, although I'd be amazed if you can still hack a linux system in exactly the same way twenty years from now :)

The sequel is called No Way

After this, it's on to the Hugo Voter Packet with me...

Oh nice thanks for the heads-up. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Finished Calmet's Treatise on Vampires. It's really a mid-eighteenth century compendium of all the folk and documentary evidence Calmet could get his hands on, in terms of post-mortem visitations. Calmet (a French Benedictine monk) is broadly sceptical of these stories, at both a practical level, and at a theological level - as far as he's concerned, a resurrection can only come via God. I read the mid-nineteenth century English translation by the (wonderfully-named) Reverend Henry Christmas, who clearly only intended the translation to laugh at those silly Papists on the continent.

That said, as someone who writes horror stories, I found Calmet a very useful source for pre-Stoker vampire lore.

Next up is Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. Yes, the Little Red Book itself.

 

Edited by The Marquis de Leech

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Being that I'm doing a lot of rereading this year I have finished 3 more rereads; WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams, ANATHEM by Neal Stephenson and A PLAYER OF GAMES by Iain M Banks.   I found the rabbit book to be tedious and the other two enjoyable.  

Also squeezed in Tiamat's Wrath by  Corey. One more book left in that series, perhaps I'll do reread on it next year.     

Edited by LongRider

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I too am reading Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. I've just started this as part of my Hugo reading, although this is one of my least favourite subgenres... 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

I haven't read a book since October last year, and I feel dirty because of it. 

Have just started Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb. Literally a chapter into it, so can't comment really. I know that her novels are very popular and well regarded, so I'm excited to continue with it today. 

If I end up enjoying this book then I'll probably end up ploughing through her other trilogies throughout the summer. Hoping to make this summer the summer of fantasy, and have a few more series lined up, such as finishing off The Broken Earth trilogy, and The Broken Empire trilogy, making a start on the Mistborn series, as well as Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles. Maybe start on Abercombie, but dunno about that yet. 

And whilst it isn't fantasy, I do have James S. A Corey's first novel in their Expanse series, so might chuck that in there too. 

Edit: how do I get rid of the white background to my text? 

Edited by Kafka's Coat

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Kafka's Coat said:

I haven't read a book since October last year, and I feel dirty because of it. 

Have just started Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb. Literally a chapter into it, so can't comment really. I know that her novels are very popular and well regarded, so I'm excited to continue with it today. 

If I end up enjoying this book then I'll probably end up ploughing through her other trilogies throughout the summer. Hoping to make this summer the summer of fantasy, and have a few more series lined up, such as finishing off The Broken Earth trilogy, and The Broken Empire trilogy, making a start on the Mistborn series, as well as Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles. Maybe start on Abercombie, but dunno about that yet. 

And whilst it isn't fantasy, I do have James S. A Corey's first novel in their Expanse series, so might chuck that in there too. 

Edit: how do I get rid of the white background to my text? 

Robin Hobb is quite an...emotionally heavy author. I can quite easily plow through her books and love them but you might need to build in breaks between trilogies if you get emotionally worn down.

i would not recommend using The Broken Earth for a break though :P that is just as bad (but an excellent series!)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, HelenaExMachina said:

Robin Hobb is quite an...emotionally heavy author. I can quite easily plow through her books and love them but you might need to build in breaks between trilogies if you get emotionally worn down.

i would not recommend using The Broken Earth for a break though :P that is just as bad (but an excellent series!)

Haha! Yeah the Broken Earth is definitely not a light read. I got halfway through the second book but will have to start it again. Great though! 

Might use The Expanse novel as my 'intermission material'. :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just finished The Poppy War by RF Kuang. It was a bit of a mixed bag, probably why it took me quite a while to get through it. There were some interesting characters and the magic system was quite good but some of the pacing wasn't great and world building wasn't the best. It was clearly fairly heavily based on the second Sino Japanese war but a lot of it didn't really make a great deal of sense with the history we're given in the story or for a war being fought with the technology level described. 

Next up I'm thinking of reading Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit. To be honest though I've found the first couple of pages a bit of a grind so I might try something a bit less hard work.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×