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What Are You Reading? Second Quarter 2022


Starkess
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tryna get caught up on recent texts on race politics: anderson's white rage, eddo-lodge's why i don't talk to white people about race, kendi's how to be an anti-racist.  those are all pretty good.  am similarly working through cedric robinson's black marxism, which is just awesome in the way that only hardcore leftwing academic writing can be.  it's up there with de ste. croix's class struggle in the ancient greek world and neumann's behemoth in terms of rigor.  rounding out the quintet with mbembe's necropolitics, which is a bit of foucauldian/agambenian good times.

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43 minutes ago, sologdin said:

cedric robinson's black marxism, which is just awesome in the way that only hardcore leftwing academic writing can be.

In that case, if you haven't yet read C.L.R. James's The Black Jacobins (1938) you must, you must, you must, as soon as possible.  If you have read it, then you know already, of course. :read: :cheers: :)

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11 hours ago, Ormond said:

Well, it definitely was my cup of tea. I thought it was one of the best books I've read in years. My book club (comprised of gay men over 50) read it (because of me, it was my turn to choose the monthly selection) and they all seemed to think it was one of the best books out of the six we've read so far in our short existence, and most of them aren't particularly fantasy fans like I am.

I'm not sure I'd call it MG but it surely is really at least YA -- it won the Alex Award, from the American Library Association, which is given to the book which was marketed as adult fiction which is most suitable to be read by the YA target audience. I am sure the main reason it was marketed as adult rather than YA is just because the two main characters are men in their 40s instead of the teen or early 20s characters that are the heroes of most YA. I thought it did a fantastic job with showing the development of a relationship between two adult gay male characters. (One of the few problems I had with it was that it was exactly the opposite in terms of two adult lesbian characters, whose relationship suddenly pops up out of the blue.) And personally I found it refreshing to read a fantasy where the bad things that happen aren't overwhelmingly grim. The House in the Cerulean Sea also won the Mythopoeic Award, so Tolkien and C.S. Lewis experts certainly thought it was a great book. 

In terms of the food analogy, I guess I don't read any fiction for "dinner". If reading fiction feels like eating something just because it's good for you rather than because you really like it, it's not particularly effective as entertainment. If I'm reading something primarily to learn things (which to me would correspond to "dinner"), nonfiction works better. 

I know a lot of people loved it, but it just wasn't my thing. Seems like it was a bit polarizing from other reviews I've read! I thought the main relationship was cute but also very poorly developed. Like they meet and it's obvious they're going to be a couple and then they just...are. Arthur felt so so undeveloped to me. Major MPDG vibes except as a middle-aged gay man. Even his big reveal didn't really work for me. And yes the 1-sentence-blink-and-you'll-miss-it lesbian relationship isn't even worth mentioning.

I think you may be reading too much into my dinner analogy. ;) Then again I think

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I read Ben Aaronvitch's new Rivers of London book, Amongst Our Weapons. I always enjoy this series and this one was no exception, even if it doesn't necessarily stand out compared to the earlier books. After the previous book deviated from the formula to some extent this one seems be back to a regular case, or at least as regular as it can get for the Metropolitan Police's department for investigating magical crimes. The mystery plotline is interesting and comes to a good conclusion, even though some aspects of it don't seem entirely resolved and presumably will be returned to in later books. We also get to see a bit more of the wider magical world explored as well as some obscure bits of the real world that I didn't know about before like the London Silver Vaults. There's also plenty of humour in it as well, I enjoyed the Monty Python references and the reappearance of the talking foxes who inexplicably seem to think they're in a John Le Carre novel.

I read the Waterstone's special edition which had a bonus short story at the end featuring a younger Nightingale on a trip to Prague on the eve of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. I thought it provided some good insights into Nightingale's history and I'd happily read more from that era.

Next up I'm going to read P. Djéli Clark's Master of Djinn.

 

Edited by williamjm
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The Long Halloween. I've never really been a fan of comics or graphic novels, but I can't get enough of this story. It's so good and the art is incredible.

Goldfinger is shaping up to be one of the best Bond books. So far I think Moonraker has been the best one, which is funny because IIRC the movie sucks. 

Lastly, over halfway through Lord of the Flies. An absolute classic I'm ashamed to have not read when I was a kid.

Edited by Tywin et al.
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I finished Josiah Bancroft's The Fall of Babel yesterday. It took me a while to get through it but it was a good read.

Spoiler

But, er, that's the end of the series? It turns out the top of the tower is a spacecraft and several main characters are in that spacecraft heading to destinations unknown for reasons unknown and that's the end of the series? It doesn't feel like much of conclusion to me.

Next up I going for something that should be quick and easy so I'm reading Lee Child's One Shot.

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Three more of my recent reads (still working through the list):

Age Of Assassins by RJ Barker is a pretty good opening to a fantasy series.  A pair of assassins — a master and apprentice — are drawn into a palace intrigue against their will.  The single POV is the teenage apprentice assassin and I was glad to hear a level-headed character voice for once, although some emo existential angst crept in later.

Strip by Brian Freeman is a detective novel set in Las Vegas, with a series of killings in current day that seem to stem from a murder during the mobbed-up glory days of Sin City.  It’s more of a US police procedural than a noir, but pretty good.  It sounds like this setting is temporary for the characters.

Thunderer by Julian Stockwin is historical fiction in the classic age of sail (the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic War).  I love this genre but this particular author doesn’t execute very well, so I really don’t know why I keep trying another, even if they are on sale.  This was my third sampling from his long series.

Edited by Iskaral Pust
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I finally finished A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White. It was a bit of a slog. I enjoyed the characters and their interactions and the melding of scifi and fantasy elements within the worldbuilding. But, I had little interest in the heroes’ treasure hunt / quest or the villains that hassled them along the way.

Now I have returned to The Legends of the First Empire series by Michael J. Sullivan, reading Age of War (book 3). It’s not necessarily groundbreaking, but it is an interesting read.

Edited by Teng Ai Hui
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Currently finishing Oblivion's Gate, book three of the Coda trilogy...the last stories taking the last twenty plus years of Star Trek novels and stories and compressing it in a manner that allows the non canon literature to come into compliance with where the shows are based on what they did with Picard...

In true Trek novels fashion, they're making the square pegs fit in the round holes...but it's absolutely terrible to wipe out the last couple of decades...

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Read The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams for the first time, and wow it really hit the spot for me. I wanted nothing more than to be swept up in an epic story without pretensions, and this did exactly that. 

Thoroughly enjoyed it, even the maybe controversial? first 160 pages, which I think captured the innocence of childhood so well, and established a nice beginning point for Simon to look back on with fondness given where I assume he'll end up. 

Nothing unexpected, no twists that we couldn't see coming, no upended tropes (so far) - it fully embraced the traditional epic fantasy genre and I love it for that. Looking forward to continuing the story!

 

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Just finished The Long Halloween. It's an incredible interpretation of Batman mythology and the ending is truly shocking. Sadly it's going to take a few weeks for my copy of Dark Victory to show up, so in the meantime, on to finishing Goldfinger and Lord of the Flies while finally cracking open Sleepwalkers

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I finally finished Age of Ash!! Huzzah. Did I like it? Eh. Enough to finish. Guess I just didn't understand going into it that I was going to get a coming-of-age mixed with overcoming-grief character study. Which I didn't really want. I might check out the rest of the series if I hear good things, since I believe they're supposed to be interconnected but not really a single story, but as of now this series is a miss for me.

Decided to re-read one of my absolute favorite books, Cyteen by CJ Cherryh, because someone asked me what it was about and I could hardly remember. Gods it's so good. I'm tearing through it and just as riveted as the previous times I've read it.

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Finished Mason & Dixon this week.  Definitely will reread soon.  Loved it very much.  Just wonderful story telling and imaginative writing with focus.  Right now it is one of my favorite books I've ever read.  I just put the audio book, and a couple of other doorstoppers (storm of swords, all Patrick O'Brian, and Shogun), onto an old ipod mini to listen to while backpacking.  All sorts of geomancy stuff in there that makes me wonder if NK Jemisin enjoyed it.

Laura Beukes, Anne LaBastille, and Hillary Mantel coming up next.  Then a couple mountaineering memoirs, including  Touching the Void by Joe Simpson, which I've been looking forward to since seeing a documentary awhile back.  

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Reading "The Necromancer's House" by Christopher Buehlman. Not enjoying it as much as his other ones, but it has started to become more interesting over the last few pages, so hopefully I'll end up liking it.

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Posted (edited)

Finished The Spider's War, the last in Daniel Abraham's five-book high fantasy Dagger and Coin series, at around 1am this morning. Entertaining, escapist troperiffic fun. I would have said 'swashbuckling', except that most of the characters expend a lot of energy trying to escape from, evade or stop the violence from happening. It might be the only SFF series that has bankers as the heroes of the story? I'm sure someone here can correct me. Now that I think about it, there might be more given that in Renaissance Europe - the very rough inspiration for these books - the merchant classes, enabled by the availability of capital and loans - were the harbingers of the end of feudal power. 

The stand-out character for me was Geder. When we first run into him, I thought 'oh right, he's going to be the male character who the audience will be most rooting for. Nerdy, bookish, social lead balloon, who's obviously about to do some bildungsromaning and gain a level in awesome'. And then things did not go like that at all. But it wasn't just the subversion of my expectations that I enjoyed — there was real art to the characterisation. The way he could care for his chosen people (Jorey, Sabiha, Aster) albeit being largely oblivious to how they perceived him, and to how the power dynamics actually worked, or 

Spoiler

ask Cithrin out while covered in the blood of the man he'd just butchered in front of her — that was really well done. His particular brand of ruthlessness came across to me as being especially interesting in the context of the established nobility of Antea, people like Dawson Kalliam, because it seemed to be a burlesque of their social/moral code: sure, attack Vanai and let loose the soldiers on the populace for a day or two, but that's okay because it's tradition and within the rules. But Geder doesn't get the rules, has read a lot, and has even less empathic imagination than the other aristocrats, and so has committed a horrific atrocity even before we're a third of the way through the first book. 

Inys

Quote

the last dragon felt underwritten to me to start with - or if not underwritten, kind of an anti-climax? You wake a dragon from a thousand-year sleep, you expect something special. But I warmed to the writing much more after being knocked on the head by realising what Abraham was doing. First, Inys was presented as a possible psychological twin to Marcus Wester, the damaged, aging conventional hero, who would be annoyingly been-there-done-that-got-the-t-shirt if Abraham hadn't lampshaded that too. (For example, at the theatre troupe's rendition of the escape from Vanai to Porte Olivia.) And then in The Spider's War another light is cast on Inys, and he's shown, not as a broken romantic like Wester, but as Geder: petty, self-indulgent, and tyrannical. Dragons and big men just cause problems in this series. The hero with the magic sword is only necessary because the dragons fucked things up selfishly and short-sightedly, and their successors in status continue to fuck things up in just the same way. 

Dawson Kalliam felt like an innovative choice of POV too - I read him very much as being a reaction to Ned Stark, inflexible slave-owner Kalliam being an aristocrat with a genuine sense of duty and honour who

Spoiler

 also gets horribly killed at the whim of a loose cannon; however, Abraham lets his failed hero be a conservative reactionary who is doing (some of) the right things for the wrong reasons. As Clara observes, had he lived, he would have been completely lost. He was just as fixed in his beliefs and instincts as the spider priests, and wouldn't have understood or realised that he needed to understand the new world of bankers and a humbled Antea. 

To me the tone read as being more hopeful than not, partly because the worst atrocities happen to unnamed or very minor characters, and are shown in less detail than Abercrombie or GRRM might have. It felt as if the author was most sympathetic to Master Kit's view of the world, as one where kindness is found in people as much or more than cruelty.

Spoiler

Choosing to end with Kit's POV certainly seemed to send that message. 

I was delighted that Clara got to keep her family, native land, and Vincen. His final question to her, "Why do you want your granddaughter to live her life with less courage than yours?" like the character himself did seem implausibly perfect, but I don't really care. Cithrin ends as a hugely successful and driven functioning alcoholic, and Marcus is still pursuing his death-wish; I love that it's the older female character who manages to get something like a happily ever after with her lover. 

The structure of the books wasn't perfect. There were multiple point-of-views, but Marcus and Cithrin often shadowed each other a lot. That could sometimes be entertaining when their perception of events, or knowledge, diverged, but sometimes it could drag. 

I see that Dagger and Coin had its own thread on the board once; looking forward to seeing what everyone thought about it. 

Apart from that, I've listened to the first eleven Gamache books  (the Louise Penny Quebec-set detective novels) through Audible, which is as far as the German versions have reached. The plots get madder as the series goes on, but I'm there for the croissants and voice of the narrator. Now I'm onto The Ottomans by Marc David Baer. Really enjoying it so far - I hardly know anything about the Ottoman Empire, and this is working as a good general introduction to a massive subject. It doesn't go into much detail or look into different readings of events and characters, but it's clear, and, as far as this non-expert can judge, able to appreciate the strengths of the Empire (religious tolerance compared to the west-door neighbours, technology, art and architecture) while not trying to hide or underplay its less charming features. 

Edited by dog-days
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This past week I listened to Zero History, the conclusion to the Blue Any trilogy by William Gibson.

Zero History does an outstanding job of wrapping up the three books, in that it ties up a lot of loose ends and is also the most action-packed of them all, while maintaining the sense of paranoia and dread of the post-9/11 Bush/Obama/War on Terror years.  Several characters from earlier stories get compassionate endings, which made me happy, and the book ends with a sense of hope, although in real life instead we got Trump, so there is that.

In any case, with this book Gibson shows that he knows how to conclude a trilogy with a strong conclusion, just as he did with All Tomorrow's Parties.

Looking back at the technologies and other skiffiness included in the story, it almost seems quaint to think that the threats in the story would be considered the most pernicious use of technology.  Nevertheless, this one it highly recommended.

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I finished P. Djèlí Clark's Master of Djinn. I liked the book's imaginative setting, an alternate early-20th Century Cairo with a lot of supernatural (particularly the djinn of the title) and steampunk elements. Parts of the setting and backstory, particularly the Thousand and One Arabian Nights influence did remind me of S.A. Chakraborty's Daevabad trilogy, although despite sharing some plot points it's structured as a murder mystery rather than an epic fantasy. I liked the characters and the initial set-up of the mystery but I think there is an issue with the plot where it felt too obvious who the culprit was from relatively early on but it takes most of the book for the investigators to figure things out and they rely a lot on other characters deciding to explain things to them. It's an enjoyable read but I think some aspects could have been better and if there are sequels I'll be interested to see whether they can improve on those areas.

One oddity is that although this is the first novel in the setting I think some key plot points work better having read the short story A Dead Djinn In Cairo.

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The author Patricia McKillip has died. I'd never actually heard of her, but I keep an eye on Dreamwidth, and a huge wave of appreciation for her has swept across the blogs there. Has anyone here read her? 

In other news, I finished listening to The Ottomans: Khans, Caesars and Caliphs. It whet my appetite for more Ottoman history, and did a good job attempting to give an overview of a very large subject. I meant to read The Long Price Quartet after finishing The Dagger and the Coin, but the library didn't have them, so ended up with Age of Ash instead. After reading a Joe Abercrombie series, I find I want to leave a decent-sized gap before attempting more, perhaps because of the brutality (the sometimes repetitive/predictable brutality) of aspects of the writing. I find it's not like that with Abraham- after The Spider's War, I was ready for yet more. Perhaps because he's less dark and grittyTM, or just because I haven't got a grip on the keys to his style and themes yet. 

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