Books

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TA
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Re: Books

Postby TA » Tue Feb 03, 2015 4:09 pm

のほも is such a good word?? the concept is kind of hard to fully get across in translation, but basically it means a feeling of pure, deep, platonic affection, and i think thats beautiful

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Brentai
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Re: Books

Postby Brentai » Wed Feb 04, 2015 9:08 pm

The Scout gazed up at the shadow growing across the sky.

"We're gonna need a bigger moon," he said, grimly.

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Thad
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Re: Books

Postby Thad » Wed Feb 04, 2015 11:38 pm

That's no moon.

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Re: Books

Postby Friday » Thu Feb 05, 2015 2:30 am

"One of the best memes of all time," the moon assured her.
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Re: Books

Postby Mongrel » Wed Feb 11, 2015 1:03 pm

This could maybe go in a politics thread, so if anyone wants to move it, that's cool.

How Iowa Flattened Literature

This is a fairly long article, so if you want the tl;dr version it's that it's an essay on how the prewar American intellectual right and intellectual left merged and chose a particular form of literary oeuvre to fight communism and "excessive rationalism" with, literary works that focus on the individual, the proximate; the personal, the immediate, the idiosyncratic.

The university of Iowa, under the auspices of Paul Engle was a great clearing house and centre for this literary push, and rose to prominence at least in part because they received CIA and other anti-communist funding.

The down side to this is that the literary genre chosen avoids big ideas and broad thinking and that for a variety of reasons this leads the current writing climate in the western world, or at least the US, to avoid big ideas and philosophical questions.

I'm not informed enough to critique the essay in any great detail (i.e. how true is it about writing style X or Y being currently prevalent), but I'm always interested in these stories that trace broad trends back to small sources and crucial moments. Anyway, I thought it was a pretty cool and interesting read.
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Thad
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Re: Books

Postby Thad » Wed Feb 11, 2015 7:10 pm

I gave Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone a read because Charlie Stross recommended it in his pretty brilliant Not a Manifesto post explaining why he's more interested in urban fantasy than hard SF these days (tl;dr fantasy speaks especially well to the world we live in today because our lives are increasingly governed by complicated devices that operate on rules most of us don't understand but which are nonetheless deterministic and predictable).

It's good. Particularly the worldbuilding. I mean, I could take or leave the world itself, the war-between-gods-and-wizards exposition, the steampunk trappings -- but that's window-dressing. The part that really fucking works, and makes the whole thing timely, is the central metaphor, which is that gods operate like big banks.

I'm going to get into a few light plot spoilers now; this is first-few-chapters stuff but if you aren't into that you can skip the next paragraph.

The story surrounds two mages who work for a law firm (yep) hired to solve the murder of a god, Kos Everburning. As it happens, in this world gods offer their power to mortals through a series of complex loans and contracts. Kos died because one of his creditors called in a debt he couldn't pay and it sapped all his power. Now, his church seeks to have him resurrected, because you can resurrect a dead god -- but it's never quite the same as before.

The economic thriller aspect is what really works for me, but the murder mystery is a good one too -- and fair. The clues are subtle enough but manage to come together to a pleasing end.

The characters are decent too, although they mostly rely on tropes -- the talented young mage cast out of her order, the mysterious and powerful elder who vouched for her, the religious acolyte who's had his faith shaken, the junkie cop, and a pleasingly vile villain. From what I've read, it doesn't look like any of them are back in the sequels; this is one of those series that revolves around a setting rather than a single story or cast.

My biggest complaint is how slow a burn it all is. As is often the case with a first book in a series, there's a lot of time spent on worldbuilding, and some of the mysteries overstay their welcome. Is it really necessary that we don't know why Tara was (literally) cast out of the Hidden Schools until 2/3 of the way through the book? I think it makes her less compelling to spend most of the book not knowing her backstory and motivation, not more.

But, still and all, it was a solid and enjoyable read and I think I'll come back to this series later.

You can get it on Amazon (affiliate link) and the ebook version is DRM-free because it's a Tor book. But if you're going to do the ebook thing I'm more inclined to recommend Kobo. Same price, but as I understand it Kobo's got deals with various independent booksellers so that if you sign up through one of them, they get a kickback for every ebook you buy. I'd recommend you check out your local independent bookseller and see if they've got a deal with Kobo; if not, that link I just gave you is through my local independent bookseller.

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Re: Books

Postby Thad » Thu Feb 19, 2015 12:18 pm


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Mongrel
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Re: Books

Postby Mongrel » Thu Mar 19, 2015 3:06 pm

Never mind "A Dinosaur CEO Turned Me Gay", the magic of self-publishing e-books has now brought us The Ass-Goblins of Auschwitz.

That cover is something else.
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Re: Books

Postby Grath » Thu Mar 19, 2015 3:20 pm

Mongrel wrote:Never mind "A Dinosaur CEO Turned Me Gay", the magic of self-publishing e-books has now brought us The Ass-Goblins of Auschwitz.

That cover is something else.

My sister inherited my dad's old Kindle, hooked up to my mom's Amazon account. She promptly threatened to buy Ass--Goblins of Auschwitz.

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TA
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Re: Books

Postby TA » Thu Mar 19, 2015 3:56 pm

Mongrel wrote:Never mind "A Dinosaur CEO Turned Me Gay", the magic of self-publishing e-books has now brought us The Ass-Goblins of Auschwitz.

That cover is something else.


That book is also five years old and exists in print. Bizarro fiction is a thing, man.
のほも is such a good word?? the concept is kind of hard to fully get across in translation, but basically it means a feeling of pure, deep, platonic affection, and i think thats beautiful

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Re: Books

Postby Thad » Wed Apr 29, 2015 12:46 pm

Continuing from my post about the Merchant Princes series in the Deals on Things thread (because the first book is going for $5 right now -- and maybe longer-term?):

Thad wrote:I really enjoyed the first two books and am about to buy the third. I think the worldbuilding is fantastic and Stross is at the top of his speculative game. It was written in 2002, so the stuff set on "our world" is kinda in that uncanny valley where it's just recent enough for me to frequently forget it's not set in the present and just outdated enough that I get occasionally jarred out of the narrative when I'm reminded of it by references to, say, PDA's, and the administration's intent to go to war with Iraq. But that's not really a criticism so much as the nature of near-future SF.


About the stuff set on "our world": well, obviously it's not actually set on our world because it's fiction, but in the third book Stross makes it overt: he drops little references to Paris Hilton's funeral and Chief Justice Bork to make it clear that the world that looks the most like ours is, even in-canon, yet another parallel Earth with a divergent timeline. (It's also something of a get-out-of-jail-free card for the use of British English in several occasions in the series that I found jarring. I'm inclined to think that the repeated examples of Americans using terms Americans don't use is accidental and not deliberate clue-dropping, but he still retroactively justifies it pretty elegantly. I'm also inclined to suspect that's the reason he didn't fix those apparent mistakes when the series was re-edited for these new editions.)

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Re: Books

Postby Thad » Mon May 11, 2015 1:13 pm

Welp, finished the Merchant Princes series.

In the final analysis, they were page-turners. I haven't read a book in years that hooked me so much.

The first book (by which I mean The Bloodline Feud -- I read the 2013 reissues of the series as a trilogy; more on that in a minute) is probably the most satisfying; it sets up the premise, has a compelling mystery, tells a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, and establishes a compelling new status quo.

It's Stross's usual speculative SF dressed up with a few fantasy trappings to avoid a contractual obligation. It takes the well-worn premise of parallel worlds and upends it -- the world-walkers come from a less technologically advanced Earth, not a more advanced one as the trope usually has it -- and then asks the questions Stross always asks, which is "What are the implications of this? Economically, politically, philosophically, sociologically, how do people react to this?" He's described it as a speculative economic thriller dressed up in fantasy drag, and that's pretty apt.

But then the second book (The Traders War) pretty much immediately throws the status quo established in the first book out the window (probably because a book about selling patents would be boring) and introduces new wrinkles, new threats, and generally destabilizes everything.

It introduces a lot, adds a lot of new players and complexity, and doesn't give any real resolution. To the point that when I got to the end I briefly wondered if my file had been incomplete, but then realized no, there's an About the Author at the end here; it's not like an epub file would be missing a chapter but still have the end text; that's just the ending.

I suppose it reaches a natural stopping point, all the various subplots reach cliffhangers around the same time, but man, those cliffhangers are abrupt; it literally ends in the middle of a battle.

I suspect, strongly, that the problem here is how the books were assembled: Stross originally conceived the series as four books, of which the series to date was originally intended as the first two. His publisher made him split those two books into six, and in 2013 they were reissued in three omnibus editions. Stross has written pretty extensively on this:

a 2005 postmortem updated in 2010;

three articles on Tor for the 2013 reissue:
Charles Stross Introduces: The Bloodline Trade,
Charles Stross on The Merchant Princes Series: How I Built a World,
Charles Stross on The Merchant Princes Series: A Crib Sheet;

and the similarly-titled blog entry Crib Sheet: The Merchant Princes.

At any rate, even stitched back together you can still see the seams. Like how halfway through each book starts dropping a bunch of exposition that you already know. And, really, while The Bloodline Feud stands on its own, The Traders' War and The Revolution Trade should really be one single very long book.

The Revolution Trade, reveals the consequences of everything in The Traders' War, and escalates. The title is apt -- there are no fewer than four coup attempts in the third book, and that doesn't include the one already in progress that it picks up from the second book. The first half of The Revolution Trade takes the story to a point of no return, and the second half is all about reactions to that event.

It's got a pretty open ending, and Stross has a new trilogy coming set in the same universe/multiverse. Leaving a five-year gap in publishing, and (assuming the new trilogy is set in the present) a 12-year gap in the narrative, was the right idea; even if we return to some of the characters from the original trilogy (and I expect we'll probably see a few of them but I don't know that they'll be the focus), it ends on a note where the question is no longer "What happens over the next few weeks?", it's "What happens over the next few years?"

It should also, hopefully, be a little smoother, because this time (as far as I know) Stross wasn't hit with format guidelines after he was already halfway through the (intended) second book. Though he has repeatedly described it as "a trilogy-shaped thing" rather than "a trilogy"; remember Tolkien's note that Lord of the Rings is not a trilogy, it's a single novel released in three volumes for the sake of convenience. That seems to be the format with the new Merchant Princes books, which IIRC are going to release a month apart.

Even so, I expect better narrative coherence this time around. Even Lord of the Rings splits its story into three (well, actually six) arcs with a coherent beginning, middle, and end; Two Towers may end on a cliffhanger but it's a big, well-earned one, not a "Wait, that's it? That can't be it. Am I missing part of the file?" one.

I'm not clear on whether the new trilogy represents the third and fourth arc that Stross described as part of his original map, or if it's just the third and he expects to return to the series again someday. But he has said the new trilogy was a huge burden to write and he doesn't intend to write a "trilogy-shaped thing" like that ever again.

Anyhow, I quite liked the Merchant Princes trilogy as published so far, despite its visible compromises, and I'm looking forward to going back there when the new books are out.

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Re: Books

Postby Thad » Tue Jun 09, 2015 10:13 pm

Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro talk genre. Ishiguro's written a book called The Buried Giant, which has fantasy elements but isn't marketed as fantasy; this has launched something of a debate over the ghettoization of fantasy and other genres.

NG: I think if you were a novelist writing in 1920 or 1930, you would simply be perceived as having written another novel. When Dickens published A Christmas Carol nobody went, “Ah, this respectable social novelist has suddenly become a fantasy novelist: look, there are ghosts and magic.”

KI: Is it possible that what we think of as genre boundaries are things that have been invented fairly recently by the publishing industry? I can see there’s a case for saying there are certain patterns, and you can divide up stories according to these patterns, perhaps usefully. But I get worried when readers and writers take these boundaries too seriously, and think that something strange happens when you cross them, and that you should think very carefully before doing so.

NG: I love the idea of genres as places that you don’t necessarily want to go unless you’re a native, because the people there will stare at you askance and say things like, “Head over the wall to Science Fiction, mate, you’ll be happier there . . .”
[...]
I have a mad theory that I started evolving when I read a book called Hard Core by Linda Williams, a film professor in California. It was one of the first books analyzing hardcore pornography as a film genre.

She said that in order to make sense of it, you need to think of musicals, because the plot in a musical exists to stop all of the songs from happening at once, and to get you from song to song. You need the song where the heroine pines for what she does not have, you need the songs where the whole chorus is doing something rousing and upbeat, and you need the song when the lovers get together and, after all the vicissitudes, triumph.

I thought, “That’s actually a way to view all literary genres,” because there are things that people who like a genre are looking for in their fiction: the things that titillate, the things that satisfy. If it was a cowboy novel, we’d need the fight in the saloon; we’d need the bad guy to come riding into town and the good guy to be waiting for him. A novel that happens to be set in the Old West doesn’t actually need to deliver any of those things—though it would leave readers of genre cowboy fiction feeling peculiarly disappointed, because they have not got the moments of specific satisfaction.


I think that Ishiguro nails it:

KI: I don’t have a problem with marketing categories, but I don’t think they’re helpful to anybody apart from publishers and bookshops.


That's it. Charlie Stross has talked, at some length, about a publisher's very real need to be able to categorize a book so that they can stick it in a section where its likeliest audience will see it, and give it a cover that will appeal to that audience, but how that meant some early difficulty in selling publishers on his works which tend to mash genres up (Lovecraftian horror workplace satire spy novel, many-worlds economic thriller, etc.), but that this problem is becoming less pronounced in the age of ebooks where a book can not only be "shelved" under many different categories but can even be marketed with different covers.

And this too:

KI: I would like to see things breaking down a lot more. I suppose my essential position is that I’m against any kind of imagination police, whether they’re coming from marketing reasons or from class snobbery.


That's about how I feel about gatekeepers of any kind, yeah.

And then they move into how science fiction is perhaps becoming more acceptable because technological innovation is being driven by people who grew up reading it -- I'd say that Serious People (Gaiman uses China's first legal, State-sponsored science-fiction convention as an example) are seeing imagination as, if not necessarily "more important than knowledge" as the man said, at least an important factor in getting practical shit done.

More great stuff from there -- Gaiman posits that the only reason Cinderella survived, as a story, for hundreds of years is due to a French homophone turning fur-lined slippers to glass slippers; they talk about fan fiction (and how, say, King Lear is an example of Shakespeare taking an existing story and changing the ending) and imitation and the mutation of stories and Neil brings up Stan and Jack and then suggests maybe copyright terms are too long now.

It's a good conversation.

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Re: Books

Postby François » Sat Sep 19, 2015 5:50 pm

I got a couple audible credits piled up now that I'm almost done with A Song of Ice and Fire, and I'm thinking of broadening my horizons by picking up stuff I'd never even considered before. I'm wondering, is Tom Clancy's stuff any good for legitimate reasons or is it mainly popular because it's reasonably competent at tickling a lot of people's murica-guns-spies-russians-terrorists fetish?

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TA
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Re: Books

Postby TA » Sat Sep 19, 2015 5:54 pm

François wrote:I got a couple audible credits piled up now that I'm almost done with A Song of Ice and Fire, and I'm thinking of broadening my horizons by picking up stuff I'd never even considered before. I'm wondering, is Tom Clancy's stuff any good for legitimate reasons or is it mainly popular because it's reasonably competent at tickling a lot of people's murica-guns-spies-russians-terrorists fetish?


Mostly the latter.
のほも is such a good word?? the concept is kind of hard to fully get across in translation, but basically it means a feeling of pure, deep, platonic affection, and i think thats beautiful

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Re: Books

Postby LaserBeing » Sat Sep 19, 2015 6:05 pm

Tom Clancy is a terrible writer but his books make good movies. Watch some of those instead.
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François
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Re: Books

Postby François » Sat Sep 19, 2015 7:37 pm

Ha, that's about what I expected, but it's good to have outside confirmation. Thanks!

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Re: Books

Postby MarsDragon » Sat Sep 26, 2015 12:45 am

So there's this book series I found, with the first book currently on sale, and I really liked it so maybe give it a try?

Amazon probably has a better blurb than I can come up with, but what sold me on it is discovering a world and investigating magical and inexplicable phenomena with the powers of logic and science. And it has a lot of that! Sadly I can't really talk about my favourite part because it's a massive spoiler from about halfway through the first book and this is a series you really should go into knowing as little as possible. I honestly found it kind of dry until I hit that part, but after that I couldn't stop reading. The first book is just 99 cents right now, so you're not out much to give it a try.

EDIT: If you don't like Amazon, here's Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

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Re: Books

Postby Mothra » Wed Oct 21, 2015 11:50 am


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Thad
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Re: Books

Postby Thad » Sat Mar 05, 2016 3:14 am

I've got an idea for an urban fantasy legal thriller. (And yes, this grew out of my "I want to see more of this Law and Order/X-Files shared universe" musing, after that episode where the Lone Gunmen meet Detective Munch.)

And it occurs to me that the last legal thriller I read was Disclosure, some twenty years ago. I know the tropes of police procedural TV shows just fine, but I should probably read some more of the genre if I'm going to try to subvert it in any kind of interesting or meaningful way.

So, can any of you guys recommend some good legal thrillers? Should I just start with The Firm, or are there better, less obvious choices?

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