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williamjm

Second Quarter 2020 reading

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Finally finished my re-read of Cibola Burn. I don't want to say it's a bad book, but it really is my least favorite of the series. The crises just become a bit implausible, and given that it's a middle book there's a certain lack of suspense since certain characters aren't really going to be killed off. So it just leaves me frustrated as a reader. Plus Murtry is a little too maniacal to be enjoyable to read about. Still, there are some interesting ideas, and it definitely picks up in the second half when things start to actually happen.

Next up I am finally getting to The Three Body Problem, which has been on my TBR list forever.

I'm also still listening to, and enjoying, The Power by Naomi Alderman.

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1 hour ago, Starkess said:

Finally finished my re-read of Cibola Burn. I don't want to say it's a bad book, but it really is my least favorite of the series. The crises just become a bit implausible, and given that it's a middle book there's a certain lack of suspense since certain characters aren't really going to be killed off. So it just leaves me frustrated as a reader. Plus Murtry is a little too maniacal to be enjoyable to read about. Still, there are some interesting ideas, and it definitely picks up in the second half when things start to actually happen.

It's not a bad book, but I think it's definitely a contender for being the weakest in the series. The ending is good but it took a long time getting there.

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Finished the second in Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series, The Queen of Attolia. Again, read it in German and read it slowly. I found it pretty engaging, but, at the same time, not hugely memorable. 

Also finished A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. Even though the interior voice of the central character was a little distracting in that it reminds me strongly of the blog entries of LiveJournalers I used to follow, I did enjoy the book. I loved the rendering of the capital of the Teixcalaanli Empire (had to look up the spelling, despite last seeing the word a few hours ago), the interest in language, culture, architecture, and food from the perspective of a newcomer. I also appreciated the rendering of Mahit's divided feelings towards it - the love-hate relationship. 

Given the slightly abrupt ending

Spoiler

to Mahit's career on Teixcalaan and her relationship with Three Seagrass 

I'm not surprised that it's planned as the first of a series. I assume we're going to revisit old characters even if the point-of-view character changes. 

I haven't read the other Hugo nominees, but reckon this book could be a convincing winner judging it purely on its own merits. 

 

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36 minutes ago, dog-days said:

I haven't read the other Hugo nominees, but reckon this book could be a convincing winner judging it purely on its own merits.

I've read four of the nominees so far and I think this is the best of them, although I wouldn't necessarily be upset with some of the others winning.

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33 minutes ago, williamjm said:

I've read four of the nominees so far and I think this is the best of them, although I wouldn't necessarily be upset with some of the others winning.

Which of the others caught your fancy?

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2 hours ago, dog-days said:

Which of the others caught your fancy?

Gideon the Ninth was a lot of fun. Some things I found a bit implausible (not the space necromancers who were perfectly plausible), which I think counts against it a bit.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January was also good but very slow to begin with.

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My reading of books this year has markedly attenuated, with my time increasingly taken up by other media. However I did manage to finish a couple books recently.

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne. Filled with vividly disturbing & grisly detail, it paints the picture of clashing cultures, concessions, compromise and sadness. As with any historical account, one often needs to traipse around the interwebs afterwards to fact check a few things to see if they hold water. It's been suggested that John Ford's The Searchers, one of my favourite films, was inspired by some of the historical events described. Unfortunately some of the language used by the author highlights a bias seemingly ingrained that couldn't be edited out.  A good read, but could have been better.     
     
Being Winter in these parts I dusted off and re-read Wallace Breem's Eagle in the Snow. Another empire on the wane, clashing with cultures seeking greener, safer pastures. Always a good read when the temperature plummets. By attrition is the only form of Roman retreat known to General Maximus.

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Posted (edited)

The last two fiction books I read:

Ill Met By Moonlight by Sarah A. Hoyt.  This is a historical fantasy where a main character is a 19-year-old William Shakespeare. His wife Ann gets kidnapped by Sylvanus the king of the fairies. Actually the most important character is Quicksilver, the younger brother of Sylvanus who has had the throne stolen from him (in Hoyt's Fairyland it is the youngest child, not the eldest, who is supposed to have inherited the throne). Quicksilver is a very interesting character for a book published in 2001. He shapeshifts back and forth between male and female forms (though the male one is presented as being primary) and seduces Will while in the female form. He also grows over the course of the story, becoming less arrogant and more sympathetic. I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would -- I especially liked the portrayal of Ann Hathaway Shakespeare, who here is l an intelligent and interesting character in her own right.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham. A fairly short literary novel which one the 1999 Pulitzer prize, and was later made into a film which won Nicole Kidman an Oscar in 2002 (I have not seen the film). Cunningham's prose is excellent and I can see why this won a Pulitzer. It shifts back and forth between three different timelines, the oldest in 1923 where the characters are real people -- novelist Virginia Woolf and her family. The other two timelines focus on a 1950s housewife named Laura and a bisexual New Yorker named Clarissa, with these two parts linked by the fact that Clarissa's former lover and still best friend, Richard, is Laura's son. This is a novel which somehow manages to be somewhat hopeful about the human condition even though most of the characters are psychologically damaged or clueless, and two of them commit suicide. For anyone who does read literary fiction in addition to fantasy and science fiction, it's well worth your time. 

Edited by Ormond

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Posted (edited)

I read City of Brass, I rather liked it, generally fairly complex situation, but I can't help but have a weird feeling the author has way more sympathy for certain characters and groups than I do, and way less for others. 

Edited by Galactus

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Rereading the Story of B, a follow-up to Ishmael from the 90's.  Ishmael had something of a cult following back then, but I never see it mentioned these days.  A fun blast from the past.  Realizing there was an almost 100% opposite definition of Taker before Paul Ryan's definition, lol.

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Anne F Hyde's Empires, Nations, Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860. Interesting approach and focus to that period of American history.  Viewing it through various families and the trade relationships they established in, primarily, the fur trade.

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On 6/28/2020 at 3:09 PM, Galactus said:

I read City of Brass, I rather liked it, generally fairly complex situation, but I can't help but have a weird feeling the author has way more sympathy for certain characters and groups than I do, and way less for others. 

That's a good assumption.  I didn't think it took away from my enjoyment of the series overall yet...

 

Finishing my re-reas of the DragonCrown War Cycle this week...why?  I was bored.  It's good in places, terrible in others.  Has some nice ideas, but it's kinda classic Stackpole...

After that, it's onto Sailing to Sarantium...

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Starting reading MLN Hanover's Unclean Spirits after seeing a recommendation in the Urban fantasy section to tide over the wait for the next Dresden, Jacka and Verus.  Slow going so far but only 20 pages in. 

Also reading Robert Caro's biography of LBJ: Vol.1 Ascent to Power.  A mesmerizing biography.   

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I finished a children's classic I had never read as a kid (and probably would have found too boring anyway), Lagerlöf's "The Wonderful Adventures of Nils" (I read it in an early, probably the first German translation from the early 20th century). Written with the explicit goal to teach Swedish schoolchildren the geography (as well as some history, culture, traditional tales) of their home, it gets a  bit info-dumpy despite Lagerlöf taking pains to wrap everything into stories and fairy tales (with giants designing landscapes by accident or Rivers competing who can reach the sea first). As most people will know from cartoons or short versions, 14 year old Nils gets transformed by a "tomte" (a small magical gnome creature) to a small size (so he can ride larger birds and birds of prey and foxes become deadly dangers) because he was mean to animals and unruly towards his parents. But in his new shape he can also understand animals and talk to them; he basically regrets and reforms immediately but as it is not clear how to break the enchantment he sets of with one of his families ganders and joins a group of wild geese who are on their way back to the North of Sweden. So they zigzag across all of Sweden and thus cover all regions. It is mostly episodic with a few strains continuing throughout (such as two poor children who used to be Nils' goose-herding companions and a few animals, such as an eagle who was raised by the lead goose Akka, a smart raven and a fox who is the mortal enemy of the geese).

Overall, I was surprised how readable and entertaining the whole thing was. Sure, some of it is very quaint, some aspects a bit too specifically ca. 1900 Swedish, but there is also some excitement and some almost Dickensian episodes concerning the brutal conditions of industrialization although overall the tone is optimistic and the hardness and industry of the Swedish folk praised that helps them to make a living under all kinds of conditions. (Farming was considered the "soft and easy" work compared to fishing, forestry and mining, well, it certainly was the least dangerous). A great love of animals and nature as well as proto-environmental concerns are also clearly expressed.

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Currently taking a break from SF&F, I've finished reading Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II by Svetlana Alexievich. I was already familiar with her "documentary" style from Voices from Chernobyl and The Unwomanly Face of War. It was a difficult book to read despite its short length, due to the many, many horrors described by the survivors of WWII occupation of Belarus. However, I strongly recommend it, and I'll keep reading the rest of her books.

Next on my list are Zinky Boys and Second-Hand Time.

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I read through the three Hugo novella nominees I hadn't read yet.

I really liked Seanan McGuire's In An Absent Dream. I found the previous stories in the Wayward Children series to be entertaining but didn't think they were great, I thought this was the best of them so far. Out of the various portal worlds seen so far in the series I think the Goblin Market felt like the most interesting of them.

I also enjoyed P. Djeli Clark's The Haunting of Tram Car 015 about a couple of government paranormal investigators working in an alternate-history Cairo where djinn and other spirits are commonplace. It seems an interesting setting and I think novella length was appropriate for the plot. I see there has been another story in the same setting which I'll have to track down.

Finally I read Rivers Solomon's The Deep. The premise is fascinating - an underwater society of merwomen descended from women thrown overboard from slave ships - and I thought the 'historical' parts of the story were the highlight. Unfortunately I didn't like the main portion of the story as much, I think the protagonist had justification for lots of self-pity but it was still a bit tedious to read.

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Finished Empire of Gold and Kingdom of Copper it was... an ending. Not great, not terrible.

I kinda feel the series was at its best in the late early/middle stages. When we had a bunch of flawed people trying to navigate a complicated political situation and often acting at cross purposes. As the story went on and the sides became more and more "sorted" it lost a lot of that early appeal. 

Also, it feels weird to set it in such a specific timeframe and not have it interact with the plot or anything. (also I think there is a bit where someone fires multiple shots from a pistol in rapid succession, which wasnt impossible but would be notably rare for the timeframe)

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