What have you been reading? - Book Discussion Thread

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haneybd87

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I’m reading House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski and I’m finding it to be kind of impenetrable. So far I’m not understanding what the big deal is but I’m not too far in yet (75 pages and 60 pages of letters in the appendix).

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haneybd87

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@bladeofcreation: That’s unfortunate to hear about his views. I watched The Terror on AMC and was totally blown away by it and quickly added a bunch of his books to my to read list. Not sure I want to now.

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shorap

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#503  Edited By shorap

Been on a book kick lately. This past month I’ve read:

Live, Work, Work, Work, Die by Corey Pein

The Socialist Manifesto by Bhaskar Sunkara

On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger

How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr

The first is a journalistic account of the technocratic hellhole that is Silicon Valley. The second is a historic account of socialism throughout the world. The third is a journalistic account of low wage/low skill/high stress jobs. The fourth is the history of American empire and the country’s relationship and history with it’s territories, both within and outside the mainland.

Because these books are about things that can be sensitive to some I’ll simply state that all were thoroughly enjoyable and educational. Highly recommended to any whose interests are piqued.

Currently I’ve starting The Divide by Jason Hickel, which is a historical account of the global south and it’s oppression by the global north.

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dudeglove

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#504  Edited By dudeglove

Finished reading John Markham Beach's English translation of Promise at Dawn (La promesse de l'aube), which is Romain Gary's memoir, and I can't recommend it enough. The older I get and the more I learn about life and so on, the more utterly absurd and completely lacking fiction is in contrast to reality. Gary's life was unreal and I have no intention of seeing the 2017 film adaptation, because it simply cannot and will not do his story justice.

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Pooch516

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@haneybd87: It's a very slow build, made more so by the fact that it's a story within a story rather than a traditional horror story, but I would say stick with it for a few more chapters. I was feeling kind of the same as you when I started (I even skipped a whole chapter that was just them describing how sound is perceived by the human ear or something) but it starts to get really good as the family starts investigating the creepy door.

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haneybd87

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#506  Edited By haneybd87

@pooch516: I had to quit reading the book at page 179. I just couldn’t read another page. I found it to be interminable, pretentious, masturbatory nonsense. I can’t believe Dan Ryckert of all people liked this book.

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Pooch516

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@haneybd87:That's fair, there's definitely a lot going on and it's totally not a book for everyone. I tried to start his next book, Only Raevolutions, and was immediately bored and gave up.

Anyways, I just finished Nathan Ballingrud's short story- The Visible Filth. I liked it, but I think it would have been cool to see some of the actual horror concepts fleshed out a bit more. And some of the character interactions just felt unnatural and confusing. Shame that the movie based on the story is getting bad reviews, I could see it being a cool movie if it was adapted well.

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BladeOfCreation

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I'm most of the way through Hidden Empire: Book One of the Saga of Seven Suns by Kevin J. Anderson. It's space opera with a number of interesting bits of world-building, but the writing itself isn't particularly engaging. I'm not sure if I'll keep up with the series after this book. Has anyone here read them? Is the first book a good indication of what the rest of the series is like?

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BladeOfCreation

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Update on my last post: I finished Hidden Empire by Kevin J. Anderson, narrated by George Guidall. It's a an interesting world with lots of what you'd expect from a space opera: a few interesting cultures (including three distinct human cultures), an enigmatic ancient alien species that disappeared thousands of years prior to the story starting (but left behind incredible technology), and a fading alien empire that is keeping secrets and is stagnant in the face of human expansion. Throw in a previously unknown, extremely powerful alien civilization and you have all the trappings of a fun space opera.

Unfortunately, Hidden Empire is just that. Its individual parts are all perfectly serviceable, but it never becomes more than the sum of its parts. I'm not striking the rest of the series from my to-be-read list, but they certainly aren't a priority, either.

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wollywoo

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I enjoyed what I read of House of Leaves, but I abandoned it halfway through. It is very self-indulgent. Everything with Will Navidson was fascinating, but I was exhausted with all the other stories. I'm tempted to go back and finish it.

I've been reading Ted Chiang's second story collection, "Exhalation". Chiang also wrote the story "Stories of Your Life", which is the basis of the movie Arrival. Chiang is a meticulous crafter of realistic worlds. Each of his stories take one central idea and explore it to its fullest. One story, "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate", is an Arabian Nights-style tale involving time travel. Another is "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom", which explores the idea of parallel universes and the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Both of these ideas are VERY well-worn sci-fi tropes, but they're also possibly the most realistic take I've seen on these concepts. The ideas are fleshed out in a very believable way - particularly in "Anxiety". That one will leave you thinking about your life choices for a long time afterward. I would say, though, that Chiang is not a strong character writer from what I've seen here - his dialogue in particular is lacking a certain spark. Especially after recently reading Tana French - her dialogue is so strong that when you put the book own you feel like you've had several drinks with the characters, listening to them tell you their life stories, each in their own unique voice.

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Recently wrapped up The Faithful Executioner by Joel F. Harrington, a fascinating look at the life of an executioner who lived in Germany in the 16th and 17th centuries and had a career spanning five decades. I'm now rereading The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, a book I remember enjoying quite a bit in college.

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BladeOfCreation

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#512  Edited By BladeOfCreation

Every so often, I finish a book that I enjoyed so much that I immediately purchase the sequel, or another book by the same author. I may not read it right away, but it sort of jumps the line ahead of other books I was planning on reading. Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence, narrated by Simon Vance, is one such book. I purchased it immediately upon finishing The Elephant Whisperer, which tells the story of conservationist Lawrence Anthony saving a herd of elephants.

In 2003, Lawrence Anthony seemed to be closing in on stability. The herd of elephants--once considered so unsafe that previous owners had considered just killing the herd outright--he had purchased for his reserve in South Africa had finally acclimated well to their new home. His game reserve seemed to be doing fine, with plans in place to add territory from local Zulu tribes and bring more economic opportunity to the region.

After seeing footage of the state of the zoo in Baghdad, once considered the greatest zoo in the Middle East, Anthony decided to take on a mission that would make saving a herd of rowdy elephants seem like a cakewalk. He more or less sweet talked his way into Kuwait, and was very possibly the first independent (non-contractor) civilian to enter Iraq after March 20, 2003.

The state of the Baghdad Zoo was, of course, dismal. Around 95% of its 600+ animals had been killed or stolen. This is where the story really begins. As with all great stories, Babylon's Ark is really a story about people and people's place in the world, and Anthony tells us all about the humanity of the people involved in saving the animals. It is in many respects a story about finding hope and doing...something, anything...to show some compassion where it might not exist otherwise.

The sheer brilliance and beauty of humanity on display here is inspiring and brought me to the brink of tears several times: the zoo workers who walked several miles each day in a war zone to care for the animals without pay; the soldiers who would toss rations into the animals' cages to keep them going one more day; the officers and unit commanders who did everything in their power to support the animals while waging a war; the anonymous soldier, seen only once, who donated a much-needed generator and asked for no thanks and no recognition; the workers from various animal aid groups that came to Baghdad in the midst of war to help.

Of course, it's easy to highlight the basic humanity of people doing objectively good things. But Lawrence Anthony goes further. He recognizes, both conceptually and personally, the humanity of the average Iraqi, many of whom were forced to steal and scavenge to survive. While looters at the zoo were common and incredibly frustrating early on, Anthony recognized that the vast majority of them were not dangerous and were only trying to help their families survive. Anthony recognized that the zoo and its surrounding park would be a boon to the millions of people living in Baghdad.

This basic idea--that by helping animals, one can also help people--is succinctly summarized at the end of the book. The idea of a humanity that exists apart from or above nature has given us the world we live in today. (I almost wrote "see" instead of "live in"--see how easy it is for us to separate ourselves from the natural world.) This book doesn't have to take place in the middle of a war zone to have its message. But it does, and that only strengthens it.

Babylon's Ark tells a story of the collateral damage of war that we often ignore, but in the midst of that war, we see people doing their best to find something worth saving. Babylon's Ark is a story of hope and humanity, and I hope you'll take the time to read it.

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BladeOfCreation

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As far as fiction goes, I'm really struggling to get through Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I really enjoyed the first 2/3 of it, but it's turned into a bit of a slog. The change in audio narrator at that point doesn't help, and is in fact a pretty weird choice.

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wollywoo

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#515  Edited By wollywoo

@bladeofcreation: Great review, sounds fascinating! Should be a film.

Edit: Was referring to Babylon's Ark.

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I've enjoyed the Battletech game from 2018 so much that I started reading the books, to get a better sense of the background lore in the game. I've been reading them sequentially in the order they were released -- I've finished William Keith's Gray Death Legion trilogy and am currently 2/3 through through Michael Stackpole's Warrior trilogy.

Stackpole's work definitely feels like an upgrade over Keith's (I read Stackpole's X-Wing books as a teenager in the 90s and remember enjoying them), but even still, the writing is so laden with 80s military/sci-fi tropes that I'm not sure if I can continue reading them sequentially once I finish Warrior. Very few of the characters have any complexity, and the villains in particular are cartoonishly one-dimensional. Beyond that, there's been a lot of cringe-worthy race/gender stuff that just doesn't play in 2019: an Asian woman is described only as "exotic-looking;" every time the only black character is mentioned, the author makes a point of reminding the reader that he's black but never tells you anything else about his appearance; etc.

Does anyone know the material well enough to recommend the best novels from the Battletech universe, so that I can just skip to the good stuff?

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MonkeyKing1969

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As far as fiction goes, I'm really struggling to get through Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I really enjoyed the first 2/3 of it, but it's turned into a bit of a slog. The change in audio narrator at that point doesn't help, and is in fact a pretty weird choice.

That dude writes some REALLY long books, as you probably know, so getting 2/3s through is a victory.

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MonkeyKing1969

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I just finshed up "The Rapture of the Nerds" by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross. It definly has more of a "strossian-feel" to the narrative. Stross loves to talk about post-singularity life, this one is no more or less weird than any of his others. I enjoyed it, but post singularity American is about as much of a fundamentalist christian shit-hole as you would expect. These part of the narartive hits very close to home, but in a funny way. The conclusion of the book was either aliens are always Malware in our brains...or we are malware in theirs.

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rorie

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#519 rorie  Staff

I just started the first book in the Dresden Files series. At a glance I don't think it's as well-written as the Black Sun's Daughter series or the Trail of Lightning book by Rebecca Roanhorse (both similar in the sense that they're about modern-day magic use), but I'll try to stick with it. There's like a dozen books in the series though so who knows if I'll stick with it!

I hope that last Expanse book hit sometime soon. I just read the new novella from those dudes and while it was decent it only took me 30 minutes or so to get through.

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MonkeyKing1969

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Last month I read/listen to "Salvation: A Novel " by Peter F. Hamilton. I love Hamilton and this is a bit of a "alternative" to his other books. What is similar is his use of 'space & terrestrial' travel through "portals". In past series (Commonwealth Saga) the were portals trains used to move around, in thsi one people can step through portals and need to be prepaired to step into space, underwater, or into the surface of another planet.

Sure, if you have read his other books there are elements of ' The Commonwealth Saga' series mixed with some elements of "Fallen Dragon" for sure; so there is little that is new except that it is a change up about how humanity moves around. A decent start to a new series though if you like his style - which I do.

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SethMode

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@rorie: I know you're busy Rorie, so while I'm @ing you I'm opening this up to anyone that has read them: I feel a little overwhelmed by the Expanse books. I shotgunned Leviathan through Nemesis games in the course of like 6 months or so back in 2016 before Babylon's Ashes came out. I didn't get to pick up Babylon's Ashes (I think at least...I know that I haven't read Persepolis Rising and beyond, but Babylon's Ashes doesn't sound familiar at a cursory glance) when it came out, and then I just sort of never came back. I really want to though, even if it means waiting until the last book is out! My question is, because I can't remember, is the series easy to come back to after a long hiatus during which my brain has been filled with a bunch of other books? I remember most of the very main beats of each of the first 5 books, but I'm worried if I jump into 6 I'll be lost. Do the books do a good job of onboarding you again? Or should I just start from the beginning again? Thanks!

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hermes

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I recently finished the second book in the Long Earth series (The Long War), and what a let down.

Things are magically resolved in the last chapter, and there seems to be no stakes left. Without going into spoilers, the phrase Deus Ex Machina feels really appropriate here.

It is specially a pity because of one of the authors being my favorite author of modern fantasy literature; but the more I read, the more I think he just put his name there to help sales, there is almost nothing of his style on sight.

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Gundato

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@sethmode: not rorie, but the books do w good job of recapping things. And there are pretty distinct arcs that are solid pausing points.

From checking, Babylon ashes is in the middle of an arc but if it was the book I think it was you should be fine as the preceding book changed the status quo to the point that they reset a bit.

And the book after is probably the best onboarding point since the first book

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SethMode

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@gundato: thanks duder! I remember the most about Nemesis Games of all the books so it sounds like I'll be okay! Although if I started over now I would increase my chances of being caught up at just the right time for the last book....