What books are you currently reading?


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The Exchange

Treppa wrote:
One thing to realize stylistically in Nine Princes in Amber is that Corwin is effectively immortal, barring violent death. So he's doing things that he's done time and time before through the centuries. They're routine, in a way. If you wrote about your life, you might describe the first trip to the grocery store in detail, but not all of them after that. I think some of the brevity effectively underscores the difference between how he sees events and how we would. It also gives us a taste of the ennui of immortality.

I would have maybe gone with that, except for how this style of writing seems to be recurring from other authors in the previous century (namely Glen Cook and Jack Vance), and for characters that aren't immortal at all.

Quote:
About Nine Princes in Amber, while Lord Snow asks "Why skip over the good parts?" I, like thejeff, would ask "Why fill up space with the boring parts?" That first book gave enough information such that by the time I finished it, I knew all the princes and princesses by name... and I am usually TERRIBLE with names!

To each their own, of course, but I don't find any of the things that are skipped in this book to be boering - I am in much higher danger of being bored if I feel like I'm watching a movie on fast forward than if I have to go through more than a line and a half about a naval battle. It's much harder for me to get an emotional connection when every three pages the characters are in a radically different situation, and whole giant chunks of the story are constantly skipped. There was this one time, years ago when DVD was still a thing, that my younger brother watched an entire season of Lost while accidentally skipping every other disk since he didn't know they were two sided. The way I feel reading these old-style books is what I imagine it must have been like for him.


Kirth Gersen wrote:

Bear in mind that Corwin narrates the whole first 5 books, and that he is quickly established as an unreliable narrator. It seems likely that his truthfulness is not directly proportional to the book number, but rather remains a bit questionable throughout.

The only modern fantasy with a better use of narrator unreliability I can think of is Peter Straub's Shadowland, ** spoiler omitted **

Hmmm. I never really saw Corwin as that much of an unreliable narrator, despite the framing device. He's unaware of a lot of what's going on, especially at first. He's not an omniscient narrator.

It's of course possible that he's outright lying about any number of things, but there's very little evidence given in the story for it. In the second series, with Merlin as narrator, there are no great revelations about how everything he learned from Corwin was a lie. Though there were more revelations about things Corwin didn't know.

I may be a little oversensitive on this due to some Amber games with GMs who relied overly much on the Corwin was an unreliable narrator thing.


So over the last week I finished the second volume of the complete works of Clark Ashton Smith.

The stories are presented, as mentioned before, in order of original production. Given how prolific an author he was across science fiction, horror, and fantasy, there are a lot of variety. BUT...also I find that some of the genres he pulls off much worse than others. for instance all his science fiction space adventures seem kind of repetitive, and mostly rely on standard formulaic pulp tropes that are now incredibly out of date. It means I inevitably lose attention. He also goes back again and again to a specific formula: Characters via time travel/magic/technobabble ends up in a different land/time/planet where he careens from one monster attack/crisis to another using only his dering do and manly wits. While that may seem fun and exciting, after reading 4 or 5 short stories in a single volume, it comes off as narrative mad libs.

I will say this, when Smith sticks to Fantasy and Horror his writing greatly improves. If you feel like checking out his fiction I suspect a collection like Return of the Sorcerer would probably be far far more enjoyable. Also it's nice to read some pulpy cosmic horror from an author who doesn't seem to have hang ups about sex. Smith narrators come across as being much more "normal" than some some of Lovecraft's narrators, and more relatable.

Speaking of hang-ups about sex, I just started the Penguin classic compilation of Arthur Machen, one of Lovecraft's main influences. It's kind of interesting seeing the origin of many common horror tropes, and Arthur Machen is probably the author most responsible for the idea of creatures from antediluvian times surviving to the present in remote areas, something horror authors have returned to again and again. Some of the stories probably haven't aged as well...there is some clunky as hell narrative techniques, and a bit too much reliance on random coincidence, but still readable. Also, if xenophobia was a major inspiration for Lovecraft in his writing, than Victorian hang-ups on sex, morality, and rising secularism were definitely a feature of Machen's work. One wonders how much of modern horror owes it's existence to weird psychological hang ups from a century ago.

Contributor

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Currently reading: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. But slowly, because it's the last book in the series and I don't want it to end.

She does incredible things with words. It's inspiring to my own writing.


MMCJawa wrote:

So over the last week I finished the second volume of the complete works of Clark Ashton Smith.

I will say this, when Smith sticks to Fantasy and Horror his writing greatly improves. If you feel like checking out his fiction I suspect a collection like Return of the Sorcerer would probably be far far more enjoyable. Also it's nice to read some pulpy cosmic horror from an author who doesn't seem to have hang ups about sex. Smith narrators come across as being much more "normal" than some some of Lovecraft's narrators, and more relatable.

I've only really read his fantasy/horror stuff, but I'd agree with that. CAS does have a bit of an obsession with mouldering corpses of one sort or another, though...


50 Books Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40

I think I've only read ten, but I've still got some months.

[Jean-Paul Sartre, Intrnet Troll]

My gal pal made the list!

[Beams with pride]

[/Jean-Paul, etc.]


Junot Diaz on playing D&D


Kirth Gersen wrote:

Bear in mind that Corwin narrates the whole first 5 books, and that he is quickly established as an unreliable narrator. It seems likely that his truthfulness is not directly proportional to the book number, but rather remains a bit questionable throughout.

The only modern fantasy with a better use of narrator unreliability I can think of is Peter Straub's Shadowland, ** spoiler omitted **

Isn't Shadowland the one that completely ripped off D&D's magic system, assigning levels to spells and such? It's been decades (cripes, I'm getting old) since I read it, but that's what stood out to me the most.


TarSpartan wrote:
Kirth Gersen wrote:

Bear in mind that Corwin narrates the whole first 5 books, and that he is quickly established as an unreliable narrator. It seems likely that his truthfulness is not directly proportional to the book number, but rather remains a bit questionable throughout.

The only modern fantasy with a better use of narrator unreliability I can think of is Peter Straub's Shadowland, ** spoiler omitted **

Isn't Shadowland the one that completely ripped off D&D's magic system, assigning levels to spells and such? It's been decades (cripes, I'm getting old) since I read it, but that's what stood out to me the most.

I think you might be talking about Jack of Shadows by Zelazny (again!), but that was a novel collected and edited together from short stories, the earliest which predates D&D.

Or maybe you're talking about a different book altogether; no harm, no foul. :)


Just got a new shipment in. Starting The Irregular at Magic High School, volume 1.


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Hitdice wrote:
TarSpartan wrote:
Kirth Gersen wrote:

Bear in mind that Corwin narrates the whole first 5 books, and that he is quickly established as an unreliable narrator. It seems likely that his truthfulness is not directly proportional to the book number, but rather remains a bit questionable throughout.

The only modern fantasy with a better use of narrator unreliability I can think of is Peter Straub's Shadowland, ** spoiler omitted **

Isn't Shadowland the one that completely ripped off D&D's magic system, assigning levels to spells and such? It's been decades (cripes, I'm getting old) since I read it, but that's what stood out to me the most.

I think you might be talking about Jack of Shadows by Zelazny (again!), but that was a novel collected and edited together from short stories, the earliest which predates D&D.

Or maybe you're talking about a different book altogether; no harm, no foul. :)

I'm pretty sure 'Tales of the Dying Earth' had spells that were described as being of a particular level...


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TarSpartan wrote:
Isn't Shadowland the one that completely ripped off D&D's magic system, assigning levels to spells and such?

Not the one I read. Maybe another novel with a similar/identical title?


Kirth Gersen wrote:
TarSpartan wrote:
Isn't Shadowland the one that completely ripped off D&D's magic system, assigning levels to spells and such?
Not the one I read. Maybe another novel with a similar/identical title?

No insult but you missed a bracket there. :)

Edit: Redundantated!!

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Finished Visitor by CJ Cherryh.

Spoiler:
There is a major development! Wow! I didn't see it coming, but I probably should have.

Now I need to finish Zero World by Jason Hough.

And then 2 more library books before I order Tracker by CJ Cherryh.


Still chugging away on the Machen anthology.

Actually skipped over a good chunk of "A Fragment of Life" I get the point (although it's flat out stated someways into the story by the author), but holy #$@@, there have to be less tedious ways of showing the err...tedium of life. A good chunk of the beginning of the first half of the story covers such gripping drama as a victorian couple debating on if they can or should remodel a bedroom, shopping for a new oven, and gossiping about their servant's (not that interesting) love life. I know the story gets more fantastical but I just couldn't bear reading it further.

Thankfully the next few stories were shorter and two the point, although I still have more to finish


Have been aimlessly jumping back and forth between books. Finished Kautsky and Lefebvre, started The Conjure Stories by Charles W. Chesnutt and a re-read of The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, put them down and decided to re-start The Parable of the Talents which I stalled out with at about the page 60 mark.


Reading Lansdale motivated me to search the attic for all my old Andrew Vachss hardcovers. Very happily re-reading Blossom, with Down in the Zero next up.


Most recently, 'Knight's Wyrd' by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald, which I rather enjoyed. I'm also reading 'Journey To The Centre Of The Earth'.


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Epic Rap Battles of History: J. R. R. Tolkien vs George R. R. Martin


Doodlebug Anklebiter wrote:
Epic Rap Battles of History: J. R. R. Tolkien vs George R. R. Martin

I just watched that three times, laughing out loud each time.


Currently reading The Disappearing Spoon, by Sam Kean, a "biography" of sorts for the periodic table of the elements. The anecdotes are enjoyable, but the organization seems a bit scrambled to me. Still worth reading, though...

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Readerbreeder wrote:
Currently reading The Disappearing Spoon, by Sam Kean, a "biography" of sorts for the periodic table of the elements. The anecdotes are enjoyable, but the organization seems a bit scrambled to me. Still worth reading, though...

Wait: A book about how the elements are organized is unorganized???

That's like keeping a book about how to start a fire in a bucket of water.

;-)


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Not unorganized, so much as organized in a way that hasn't clicked with me. I do like the analogy, though... :)


Trying to plow my way through "Ultimate Intrigue". I don't process information as well as I used to, so it's not been easy.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Finished reading The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millenium book 4, by a new author) on the weekend. Enjoyed it. Worth a read if you liked the original books.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

ericthecleric wrote:
Finished reading The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millenium book 4, by a new author) on the weekend. Enjoyed it. Worth a read if you liked the original books.

I didn't even know this was a thing. I'll definitely check it out.

I just finished Zero World by Jason M. Hough. It was interesting and has a really weird premise, but at least three-quarters through they kind of explain it. I didn't read the Dire Earth novella in it yet (part of the Darwin's Elevator series about an alien zombie-making infestation and space elevator centered in Darwin, Australia that tries to be Firefly).

I just started three moments of an explosion by China Mieville.

Paizo Employee Senior Editor

Just finished The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah; now browsing Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Steward while waiting for my hold on Book of Phoenix to come through.


An unexpected stay in hospital meant I managed to get through some of my to-read pile. Finished the first two books of the Warlord (Viking Age England) series by Bernard Cornwell which were recommended to me and I enjoyed enough to look for the rest of the series.
- The Last Kingdom
- The Pale Horseman


'The Complete Renaissance Swordsman'- Manciolino's 'Opera Nova' translated and introduced by Tom Leoni

'The Boy with the Porcelain Blade' by Den Patrick

and, at present, 'Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World' by Tim Whitmarsh

The Exchange

Finished reading Judas Unchained (Commonwealth #2, by Peter Hamilton) and now started God's War (Bel Dame #1, by Cameron Hurley), following the description of the book as "Grimweird" from another thread here in these forums.

Judas Unchained thoughts:
How does one even begin to review a book as massive as Judas Unchained? Not only does the book itself clock in as 1235 pages long with the smallest available text in my kindle, but it is also more properly the second half of Pandora's Star, the previous book in the series, than a story of it's own. We are looking at over 2000 pages combined of story here.

Perhaps that obstacle could become the solution to it's own problem - I'll start by talking about the length of these Commonwealth books. To describe them as "big" is probably a disservice - perhaps gigantic is the right word. In this I am not only referring to the physical word count, but also to the size of the story. Hamilton uses the spacious environment he curved out for himself to create a fictional human civilization that is orders of magnitude bigger than the current one - his Commonwealth is huge, detailed and very believable. The multitude of worlds, alien races, human cultures and technologies truly captrued my imagination.

The story is every bit as big as the setting. The mega-war against the Dyson Alpha primes is as mindbending in scope as any fictional war I've ever read, and includes battlefronts that stretch across tens of star systems and involve weapons of mass destruction on a galactic scale. Accompanying this plot thread is the cloak-and-dagger investigation into the star flyer, which in itself is less interesting to me, but includes some very well done bits. Oh, and one mustn't forget the continuation of Ozzie's travels in the Silven paths. I actually think this plot thread fizzled a bit and ended with a whimper, but it did eventually connect back to the main plot in an important way that isn't what I originally expected.

So I think by this point I established that I truly liked what Hamilton was capable of doing with the inane word count he used. There are, however, disadvantages. It feels like a *lot* of those billion words I read in the series were essentially wasted on scene setting that was not only unnecessary, but also somewhat harmful to the pacing of the book. By the time I reached the 60% mark it seemed like the story was about to end any minute now, and I was wandering what was going to fill the remaining hundreds of pages. I thought maybe there will be some unexpected twist to the story, something that throws everything off balance.
Instead, what I got was an excruciatingly extended and detailed lecture on the geography and history of human settlement of the planet Far Away. What could have been a simple chase sequence become the most ill placed infodump I ever encountered, as humans and aliens race across a planetary highway that I now know everything about. I can tell you who planted which trees along it and when and why, I can explain how a mountain range is positioned relative to the equator, and which kind of farm animals are herded along which section of the road. I just can't understand what Hamilton and his editors were thinking when they bogged down the grand finale of the series with so many irrelevant details. It completely kills the pacing and tension. I guess it's cool that Hamilton went to that level of detail when he imagined the road, but that's not how you incorporate world building into your story.
This gripe is about the worst case of the style of over-exposition in the books, but Hamilton is a repeat offender and I find myself thinking that yes, these books could be shrunk down by hundreds of pages and actually become better.

I want to touch on one more subject before I bring this writhing mass of a review into some sort of conclusion - the social commentary aspect of these books. I actually really really like what I think Hamilton is doing here - he's being subtle. There's a *ton* to say about the views and habits of the human society in the Commonwealth - humanity in the books has definitely changed after hundreds of years of immortality. The lives of every human in the commonwealth are in almost any objective metric a lot better than that of any human living today, and yet the gap between social classes is almost comically big - and that makes sense, considering that the rich keep on getting richer for hundreds of years. I would almost refuse to call the Commonwealth a democracy since it is so clearly run by a few dozen ultra powerful and influential individuals. This and other subjects create a very fertile ground for discussion. And yet the book doesn't hit the reader's head with a stick on these weighty subjects. Instead, it elects to just show things as they are, allowing the readers to understand on their own how and why things got to be this way and what they think about them. There's no direct judgment or condemnation to any school of thought about the subjects the book touches. Except one slightly over simplistic notion about the morality of genocide (I think the discussion about wiping out the primes could have been more deep and thorough), the Commonwealth Saga is very subtle. Those lofty themes and philosophical quandaries are present, but they aren't highlighted by endless meandering paragraphs. That really prompted me to try and think of those things by myself and with friends. I love that.

So, a conclusion. I enjoyed Judas Unchained more than Pandora's Star, since it was more focused and had a coherent story to tell. The scale of the story overwhelmed me, and I say that in the most positive way. There are flaws and gripes and serious characterization and pacing issues, and at times it was downright tiresome, but overall I am glad I read it, and I would be reading on in the Commonwealth universe. Just, after a pretty long recovery time :P


Planning a reading/translating project of the Minor Declamations of (Pseudo-)Quintilian. Probably ten or fifteen. Unfortunately my Latin has gotten rusty enough that it will be a bit of a project.

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Anyone have suggestions for books involving travel between multiple universes (a la Sliders)? I poked around the Kindle store, and found only a bunch of... lackluster self-published stuff.


I've never seen Sliders, but hey, just last month, on this very thread, we were discussing Roger Zelazny's Amber series. I can't think of anything I'd recommend more highly (because my other favorite "multiple universes" stories generally don't get to traveling to them until very, very late in the story.)

The Exchange

RainyDayNinja wrote:
Anyone have suggestions for books involving travel between multiple universes (a la Sliders)? I poked around the Kindle store, and found only a bunch of... lackluster self-published stuff.

I am currently reading the Amber series (starting with Nine Princes In Amber) which is all about travel between universes. The first book isn't very detailed about it, but as there are nine more in the series I assume more details will follow.

I haven't read Cameron Hurly's Mirror Empire, but to my understanding it is about an empire that colonizes other universes, so that could easily fit what you're looking for. I can't attest to the quality of it, of course.

The Dark Tower isn't specifically about dimension hopping, but crossing between realities is a very major theme in it, and happens a lot in all books (I guess except the first, where it only happens a little). Of all the books I mention here, this series is the one I can give the strongest recommendation - it gets unwieldy by the end, but includes some of my favorite fantasy novels of all time. Oh, and while we discuss Stephen King books with dimension travel, The Talisman is also worth checking out.

Lastly, the Death Gate cycle has a ton of dimensional travel, though the theme is lighter in the beginning in the series and gets stronger with each passing book. While the concepts in the series are incredibly cool, the writing itself is regrettably bad, and though I didn't mind that when I read the books as a kid, I can't really recommend them now. Maybe read the Wiki article if you are curious about the concept.


For a very different take, if you're into comics, check out Jeff Smith's RASL.

That's Jeff Smith of Bone fame, but this is a very different and much less cartoony story. Sort of sci-fi noir, about a dimension hopping art thief. And Tesla's lost notebooks.


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Web comic about the Bronte sisters


RainyDayNinja wrote:
Anyone have suggestions for books involving travel between multiple universes (a la Sliders)? I poked around the Kindle store, and found only a bunch of... lackluster self-published stuff.
  • deCamp & Pratt's "Compleat Enchanter" stories remain the pinnacle of the dimension-travel genre.
  • Heinlein's Glory Road and Number of the Beast are worth a read.
  • Zelazny is all about that stuff. In addition to Amber, check out, e.g., Roadmarks and A Dark Traveling.
  • It's slower going, but if you have the patience, the first 5 or so books of Andre Norton's "Witch World" series have some really cool dimensional gate stuff.

    More recommendations coming as I think of them...


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    Pathfinder Adventure Subscriber
    Doodlebug Anklebiter wrote:
    Web comic about the Bronte sisters

    From Kate Beaton's delightful Hark, a vagrant


    Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

    I recently finished Doc Martin: Practice Makes Perfect, the novelization of the first season of the BBC hit show Doc Martin.

    I was pleasantly surprised by how the author wrote the book, as he unexpectedly downplayed certain elements from the first season while tying others together more tightly than the show's episodic format. Neither of these was overwhelming, but combined with narrative exposition about what the characters were thinking, it made it just different enough from watching the show that it felt like a fresh take on things.

    RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16

    Thanks for the recommendations, everybody. Oddly though, I was expecting sci-fi, but all of the books you mentioned were fantasy! Is there no hard(ish) sci-fi dimension-hopping out there?


    RainyDayNinja wrote:
    Thanks for the recommendations, everybody. Oddly though, I was expecting sci-fi, but all of the books you mentioned were fantasy! Is there no hard(ish) sci-fi dimension-hopping out there?

    Heinlein is (nominally) SciFi.


    I remember when I got to read books...now that I co-own a 3pp, seems all that reading time has become writing, editing, and layout time.


    RainyDayNinja wrote:
    Anyone have suggestions for books involving travel between multiple universes (a la Sliders)? I poked around the Kindle store, and found only a bunch of... lackluster self-published stuff.

    GRRM wrote a series pilot called "Doorways" which is in one of his Dreamsongs books. I think it was also adapted into a comic. In any case, it involves dimension-hopping. In fact, there are those who claim "Sliders" was plagiarized from "Doorways," although there is no hard evidence to prove it.

    RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

    RainyDayNinja wrote:
    Thanks for the recommendations, everybody. Oddly though, I was expecting sci-fi, but all of the books you mentioned were fantasy! Is there no hard(ish) sci-fi dimension-hopping out there?

    Job, A Comedy of Errors or whatever it's called by Heinlein.

    Zero World by Jason Hough was pretty good.

    Jasper Fforde has a series where the main character pops in and out of literature. Other departments deal with time travel and alternate universes.

    RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

    Oh, and pretty much every Neil Gaiman book has someone traveling to a different world, be it under London or the other side of the Wall.


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    Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell is a classic SciFi novel w/alternate universes.


    I'd nominate a lot of the Michael Moorcock stuff, but I'm not sure that it's what RainyDayNinja was after, and hard sci-fi it most certainly ain't.

    Liberty's Edge

    Dimension hopping alternate world stuff really isn't hard sci-fi territory.

    RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

    "Community?" We'll be in The Darkest Timeline if Trump wins...

    ;-)

    RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

    Why are most of the alternative world hopping media I know TV or movies? Like eXistenZ?

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