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First Quarter 2020 Reading

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Just finished The Movement of Mountains by the late Michael Blumlein, copyright 1987.

I am someone who owns way too many books I've never read yet, and I have a tentative "reading plan" where I have about the next 20 fiction books I'm going to read planned out in order. So Blumlein's book had been on my plan for months and I'm amazed at the synchronicity of getting to reading a story about an epidemic virus at this moment in history.

Blumlein turned out to be a really fine writer. He was himself a physician and so the medical terms and knowledge used are extremely believable. The novel is told in the first person by a physician -- but one who is a compulsive binge eater and is very overweight! Not your typical hero -- but very well done. He lives in a future society which is still very capitalistic where major corporations have as much or more control as the government. He ends up becoming the physician on a colony planet controlled by one of the corporations where the main workers are genetically engineered slaves whose life span is only five years. But even before he goes there he knows about a new viral disease circulating on Earth. This disease is sexually transmitted (some of the inspiration for this story was probably that it was written fairly early on in the HIV/AIDS era) and it turns out the physician's female lover, who he actually gets a job on the colony planet before he does, transmits it both to him and the worker slaves.

I would definitely recommend the book. The one fault is that I wish there had been a bit more information about how things on the colony planet worked out -- the narrator goes back to Earth at the end of the book without it being 100% sure how things are going to be resolved on Eridis, the colony. I didn't always agree with the ethical choices of the main characters, but the issues were presented in a way that it gave me a lot to think about.

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Wee note for those who don’t read some of the other threads on this page, as I know some on this thread have expressed interest ; the sequel to Resurrection Men came out last week on kindle (paperback 25 May).  It’s called Lord of the Hunt. Search on that with Craig at the end on Amazon to get it.

Currently reading Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard which is good so far.

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Really enjoying my re-read of Leviathan Wakes. I've read books 1-6 of the Expanse, most of those 2x, and LW is still my favorite. In no small part because Miller is my favorite character of the series.

Spoiler

I just read the scene where he realizes that he is the fuck-up, the lost-his-touch former hotshot detective, and it's so utterly devastating and perfect. Killing off Miller was important plotwise, but damn did they hamstring themselves by creating and offing their best character in book 1.

It's funny reading the books now with some of the aesthetic of the show in my head. For example, I always (wrongly) pictured Holden as blond, but now I can conjure up his deathly-pale-and-dark look. Naomi in my head looks nothing like show!Naomi though. She just ain't tall enough!!

Listening to The Hallowed Hunt continues. I'm enjoying it quite a lot. Dying to know what sort of bittersweet ending she has up her sleeve. Still hate the narrator, though.

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7 hours ago, Leap said:

Well, it's Tuesday and as prediced I have now finished Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination. 

I have mixed feelings about this one. I don't know whether to give it four stars or two. It is quite unlike anything I have ever read before, and certainly a stunning contrast with how I felt about the protagonist in my last read. 

The Stars My Destination is something that I find quite rare in media: it is surprising. Often when reading, listening or watching, you can see the plot beats coming up, you can say the lines before they are said. This book isn't like that at all. It sort of tears away within the first chapter, every twist and turn feels dynamic and aggressive; matching the protagonist. I can forgive some deus ex machina later on in the novel because it fits into this haphazardness.

It's an extremely imaginative book in almost all respects. The glaring failure, for me, is the female characters (surprise surprise, it's 1950s sci-fi). However, to give him a little bit of credit, they do have a great deal of potential - as opposed to say Vance's Emphyrio. Unfortunately, this either comes too little and too late, or dies out as the plot moves away from them. To be honest, Bester doesn't put a lot of work into many of his secondary characters though. The book is completely focused on the protagonist. Seems a bit rote to point out that its greatest asset is also its biggest weakness, but that's the way it reads.

As you say, I think parts of it have not aged well. However, it's still an impressive book, it packs a huge amount into a relatively short book and even though it's been over a decade since I read it I still remember some of it vividly.

I've had a copy of Bester's The Demolished Man for ages, I should read it sometime.

Additional question, has anyone read anything by Raymond E. Feist - more specifically a book called 

Talon of the Silver Hawk? What should I expect?

I agree with ljkeane and Wilbur, it's not terrible but it's far from his best work.

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Re Feist;

Magician is an ezcellent novel. Ahead of its time in that there’s really no ‘bad guy’. Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon were more generic but still enjoyable. The followibg two books are good too (Prince of thr Blood and Thr King’s Buccaneer).

The Serpentwar Saga starts off promising (book 2 Rise of a Merchant Prince partly inspired The Lies Of Locke Lamora), but book 4 (Shards of a Broken Crown) was a train wreck. The continuity errors already creeping in in earloer volunes, were more obvious here. The series never really recovers though the last novel Magician’s End perks up a bit.

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Posted (edited)

All done with Flaubert's Madame Bovary. This was a great read, seemingly way ahead of its time in focusing on the everyday travails of a woman wanting so much more from life than it can give. I finished the novel feeling depleted; as much as it was a fun read with no shortage of comic relief, Flaubert certainly didn't have the most rosy view of the civilised/human world. I was lucky to stumble on Lydia Davis' translation, and would recommend it to anyone interested. 

Now resuming my slog...Stone of Farewell

Edited by Paxter

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2 hours ago, Derfel Cadarn said:

Re Feist;

Magician is an ezcellent novel. Ahead of its time in that there’s really no ‘bad guy’. Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon were more generic but still enjoyable. The followibg two books are good too (Prince of thr Blood and Thr King’s Buccaneer).

The Serpentwar Saga starts off promising (book 2 Rise of a Merchant Prince partly inspired The Lies Of Locke Lamora), but book 4 (Shards of a Broken Crown) was a train wreck. The continuity errors already creeping in in earloer volunes, were more obvious here. The series never really recovers though the last novel Magician’s End perks up a bit.

I think the end of Rage of a Demon King is where Feist should probably have stopped with the Riftwar books, it was all downhill from there (aside from Honoured Enemy, which I really liked).

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1 hour ago, Paxter said:

All done with Flaubert's Madame Bovary. This was a great read, seemingly way ahead of its time in focusing on the everyday travails of a woman wanting so much more from life than it can give. I finished the novel feeling depleted; as much as it was a fun read with no shortage of comic relief, Flaubert certainly didn't have the most rosy view of the civilised/human world. I was lucky to stumble on Lydia Davis' translation, and would recommend it to anyone interested. 

Just wait till you see the *musical*. Where actors run through Madame Bovary's *head* tossing arsenic around. Or eating it. It's been a few years since my mind witnesses that absolutely surreal madness. 

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I finished Kevin Wignall's The Traitor's Story, it's a pretty good spy thriller with a bit of an old school feel to it. I'll definitely read more of his books.

Next up with Peace Talks on the horizon I think I'll start a bit of a Dresden Files reread with Changes.

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On 3/25/2020 at 12:19 AM, williamjm said:

I think the end of Rage of a Demon King is where Feist should probably have stopped with the Riftwar books, it was all downhill from there (aside from Honoured Enemy, which I really liked).

I preferred Honoured Enemy when it was called Sharpe’s Rifles :P

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I finished Changes. Entertaining as always with Butcher's books but I can't believe it was published in 2010. Times flies.

Next up I'm going to read Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven. I'm not sure it's kind of escapist reading I could do with at the moment but it does seem appropriate.  

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Posted (edited)
On 3/26/2020 at 5:09 PM, ljkeane said:

I finished Kevin Wignall's The Traitor's Story, it's a pretty good spy thriller with a bit of an old school feel to it. I'll definitely read more of his books.

I’ve read three of his now.  I think they’re all Kindle Unlimited.  They’re pretty good, albeit very similar in tone and principal character each time. 

Edited by Iskaral Pust

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Finished The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which is an unusual read: it’s structured as a series of vignettes about the members of a platoon in the Vietnam War.  It’s almost like a memoir — the author is writing about his experience of the war, and he is one of the characters — but it’s hard to know where and how much is fictionalized.  It’s very well written.  I would recommend it, but it’s also a slightly gloomy theme and tone for the current environment. 

To lighten the mood, I reread Mystery Man by Colin Bateman, the first in his eponymous series about a detective in Belfast.  Very, very funny.  It’s a comic exaggeration of the trope of a detective with Aspergers/OCD.

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10 hours ago, ljkeane said:

Next up I'm going to read Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven. I'm not sure it's kind of escapist reading I could do with at the moment but it does seem appropriate.  

It's a great book but might not be my first choice right at the moment. I suppose at least the coronavirus is nowhere near as deadly as the book's Georgia Flu.

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I finished off E.C. Tubb's The Winds of Gath, and it was a pretty good read, probably some of the highest quality little-known 60s pulp / adventure sci-fi published as The New Wave arose to take prominence in the world of genre fiction.  Not only does the author have good control of his work, but he explains nothing while simultaneously doing a good job of world-building.  This is not accurate, of course, but the lack of didactic text or data dumps is impressive, and Tubbs does a nice job of presenting the planet of Gath as a place that exists that is filled with phenomena that occur, and as a reader I can swallow it all.  Recommended as a good example of sci-fi pulp fiction.

I also read one of the most boringly-presented stories of real-life adventure ever written, Dirty Work: The Untold Story of My Secret Mission to Steal Back TWA Flight 847 from Hezbollah by Richard Vaux and Brad Kuhn.  Do not read, as what should have been an exciting or thrilling real-life history is reduced to a dishwater-dull retelling.  Truly terrible.

Finally, I wrapped up Christian Cameron's The Long War, Book Two, Marathon, based upon a recommendation earlier in this thread.  I found both this and the preceding book, Killer of Men, to be excellent historical fiction based on the life of Arimnestos of Plateae.  The style and the subject matter are right up my alley, and the author does a terrific job of describing what it is to work or play or fight until exhaustion and wounds set in.  His sense of history and the story-telling of the time and place of the Ionian Rebellion are also highly enjoyable.

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Just getting into Urth of the New Sun.  I'd started it years ago but out it down, gave it a try this morning and am really into it.  It's easy to get lost in Wolfe and right it's nice to have a book to wander around in.

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Station Eleven is excellent. I'd definitely recommend reading it even if not necessarily under the current circumstances.

I'm not sure what I'll read next. I'm a bit conscious of how much money I could end up spending on books and downloading films over the next few months so I think I'll have a bit of a look at what's available on the cheap kindle deals.

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I finished Arkady Martin's A Memory of Empire. I thought this was impressive for a debut novel, it doesn't feel like an author's first book. I think it was maybe a bit different to what I was expecting beforehand, I was expecting more of a space opera story but although the setting is appropriate for space opera (the main character is from a small space station who worry about annexation by a vast interstellar empire), it's more of a mix of murder mystery and political thriller. The plot was intricate and convoluted but although it took a while to see where it was heading it was easy to follow. I though Mahit was an interesting protagonist to follow. She begins the story by arriving for the first time in the imperial capital and this provides a good opportunity to explore the world from the perspective of someone who has read a lot about the place but never been there before. The supporting characters were interesting as well, they all have their own motivations and Mahit doesn't really know whether she can trust any of them. One downside is that while I found Mahit's story to be compelling I found I didn't care as much about the political manoeuvring that forms a large part of the plot since it's often difficult to know what would actually be a good outcome.

I think this would work as a standalone novel since it wraps up the main plot by the end, but there are also a lot of things that could be explored in the planned sequel.

Next up I think I'm going to read Adrian Tchaikovsky's Made Things.

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1 hour ago, larrytheimp said:

Just getting into Urth of the New Sun.  I'd started it years ago but out it down, gave it a try this morning and am really into it.  It's easy to get lost in Wolfe and right it's nice to have a book to wander around in.

We had a nice re-read of those books here: 

 

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Currently reading a review copy of a self-published novel (the author sent me a request, and I decided to accept). I'm about a third of the way in, and... it's bad. I will finish it, since it seems the decent thing to do, but I will email the guy back to tell him I can't review it in good conscience.

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