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Fourth Quarter 2021 Reading

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I started listening to Rachel Maddow's Blowout. I'm not a huge nonfiction person usually, and definitely not for audiobooks, but I figured she'd be entertaining enough to give it a try. Plus now that marathon training is over, I'm mostly listening while walking rather than running, so I don't need to be as distracted. I'm only a couple chapters in but it's pretty interesting, if not particularly groundbreaking.

Still only one chapter into reading Project Hail Mary, but maybe this weekend I'll spend some time with it.

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In observance of 125 years of the New York Times Book Review it is putting up all sorts of interesting pieces from the Book Review's Archive, almost all of them first looks at books we have come to know so well, including genre fiction from mysteries to sf/f -- the latter has a review of Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World, which isn't liked as much as the Sherlock tales. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/21/books/arthur-conan-doyle-the-lost-world.html

The review of Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence -- 1920 -- is a priceless example of complacency and self-satisfaction that classically has been characterized as a book reviewer-critic! :read: :D  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/21/books/review-the-age-of-innocence-edith-wharto.html?searchResultPosition=1

My caveat is that all the selections, or nearly all of them, are fiction of one sort or another.  The NYT reviewed at least a many non-fiction works of 125 years.

It's quite an entertaining browse and distraction while waiting for the oven time to ding or constantly checking the progress of a pot of pinto beans. 



Edited by Zorral

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I picked up a copy of Howard Waldrop's Them Bones in Prescott last weekend and finished it tonight.  Waldrop is a terrific writer with a very odd sense of reality, and in this book he posits a world in the grip of World War III sending time travelers back to try and fix the problems that started the war.  Except the time traveling machine isn't correctly aimed, so various travelers end up in a pre-Columbian age.

The book follows three narratives, including a single scout time traveler, a military company of time travelers, and a 1930s-era group of archeologists.  In the final climax, the book describes a healthy bit of the escape-and-chase scene from the 2006 movie Apocalypto (a fantastic film, by the way).  I had to check IMDB to see if he got a story credit.

Both that film and the book end with a surprising revelation of the "Oh shit, we are all screwed, and all our efforts were for nothing" type.  The twist in the tail of the final scene for book and movie are different, but both work well.  In this tale, man's inability to escape his self-inflicted wounds works its way through several different story threads to culminate in a thematically true ending.

I particularly liked the treatment of the Mound Builder Native Americans in this book.  The characters in this group are well-rounded, living and breathing individuals, and I cared very much what happened to them.  Also, the funniest character in the book, and the one who has the most empathy, agency, and interest is a Mound Builder.

I wouldn't suggest that Them Bones is the first Waldrop story anyone should read, but it is a good one.  Maybe give a try to Night of the Cooters or The Ugly Chickens as a first Waldrop experience.

Edited by Wilbur

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Having a very Vampiric 'spooky month'. Reread Dracula and I think it holds up pretty well, although nothing is quite as good as the incredible opening segment of Harker at Dracula's castle. I also liked my reread of 'Salem's Lot, it actually has a pretty solid ending which isn't always a given with King. Starting good ol' GRRM's Fevre Dream today. 

I also finished up my reread of The Silmarillion before I get the new Nature of Middle-Earth. It's an amazing book, incredibly written with outstanding imagery and imagination. Might just be the season, but I'm curious about Beren's terrible journey through the Dungortheb, seems like a great setting for horror. Tolkien's implications are shudder-worthy. 

I'm also wrapping up Half of a Yellow Sun. Really interesting and sad book although I'm not too familiar with the Biafran War beyond a few basics. Adichie is a very strong writer of character though. 

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Is it already The Fourth Quarter?!! How the time flies... Anyway, most of this stuff is from the previous quarter, but since I didn't manage to post then:

I had a chance to read some of SF "cult classics" from a few decades ago that I have been hearing about off and on:

The Kencyrath series by P.C. Hodgell that began with God Stalk in 1982 and continues to this day (11 books with 2 remaining). It is really unique in my experience in that it moves seamlessly between a somewhat grounded secondary world fantasy and weird psychedelic fantasy/horror. However, there is a method to this madness that eventually emerges. I fully understand it's cult status and liked it a lot. Pretty interesting how it first introduced certain ideas that later cropped up in certain massively popular series. I really liked it on the whole, even though the author seems a bit too much in love with her protagonist. Here is to hoping that she manages a worthy conclusion. 

Growing up Weightless and Princes of the Air by John M. Ford. Big disappointments. I just don't understand what the people saw in them? At least in the former there are a lot of interesting hints around the boring and frankly unconvincing main narrative, which never get sufficiently explored. But everything directly connected with the protagonist makes no sense, IMHO. Not his place in the setting, not his relationships, nor the eventual resolution. But the latter book doesn't even have that.

City of Diamond and the Ivory trilogy by Janet Emerson/Doris Egan. It is too bad that that there won't ever be a continuation to the first one, it is really intriguing. As to the trilogy, it is an alright science fantasy adventure.

The Serpent's Egg by Caroline Stevemer. It is an OK secondary world fantasy, though the magical subplot could have been excised without any change to the main narrative. The author has much better books.

And now an eclectic spate of the newer stuff:

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. It had it's moments and moved briskly, but I had some serious reservations about it:

There were far too many idiot balls, and the twist doesn't make up for them.


I.e.: they knew that the crew's brains might get scrambled by the multi-year coma, but didn't bother to include any explanation/refresher briefings?!!! They knew that the team would need to obtain samples from the planet, but didn't provide any means to do so?!!! They only gave the crew supplies for a very few weeks at the target?!!! I mean, even after the tipping point something of humanity still could have been saved, if the team had enough time to fulfill their mission. And finally, after comitting so many resources to the project, they only trained 2 potential crews?!     

The protagonist does far too much of explaining things to people who should have already known them, particularly women.

Also, the protagonist isn't believable as a  scientist - he is not at all curious beyond his immediate goal/predicament, he doesn't document things, etc. He is just another passionate tinkerer, like Mark Watney. 

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey. I really disliked this one. An unpleasant and highly incompetent protagonist marinating in self-pity, the setting that attempts to be in a dialogue with "Harry Potter", but makes even less sense despite it being a book for adults, useless magic  (I hated this in the Magicians, too), etc. And I had such high hopes for it, too.

Questland by Carrie Vaughn. What is this even about? The dangers of LARPing?! Loser boyfriends? ARGH! And I really liked Kitty Norville books, too.

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik. I liked it, although these alleged mortality numbers for magical kids versus 1-2 children families continue to be absurd and jarring. Also, it is painfully obvious that the cliffhanger is just there for show and it is a foregone conclusion how it will be resolved. I am much more interested in how the larger issues are going to be dealt with. Personally, I liked the changes in the protagonist's situation, ditto all the additional info. Now it all has to lead to something interesting in the final volume to stick the landing.

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Finished listening to Masada by Professor Jodi Magness. It was interesting, but - and this effect was perhaps exaggerated by the medium - fragmented. I went into it expecting a book about Masada, and while the site and siege were central, the author hopped around a lot. So the book took in Jerusalem in the time of the Maccabees, and in the time of Pilate, and in the time of Herod Agrippa. (I was exposed to I Claudius young, and still imagine the grandson of Herod the Great looking like James Faulkner in a wig...). Perhaps in consequence of the broad focus, the book, though 312 pages in paperback, felt somehow slight. The detail that most stood out to me was that the dried foods discovered still on Masada - having survived two thousand years due to the dry heat - would have been full of parasites and larvae.  I found myself hoping that this was due to stressors such as the siege, and not just a sign of the general state of preserved food in the ancient world. The people then really had enough problems without finding beetles in every amphora! 

I hadn't realised quite how sparse written sources were for the first Jewish-Roman war. It effectively seems to come down to a choice between Josephus, Josephus and Josephus.

I think I would enjoy a literary-sociological-historical book that enlarged on Magness's discussion of the role of Masada in modern Israel, and went into greater detail regarding Yigael Yavin's excavations of the site - with perhaps a more critical eye. Magness was a pupil of Yavin for a while, and she makes no effort to deny that she's still in awe of him. 

Edited by dog-days

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