What're you readin'


#363

working a job for the short while before corporate threw me out gave me time to get into a rhythm of regularly reading, so I’ve been burning through a few books. I feel slightly more like a person now.

Finally finished High Rise. That gets weird and disgusting but it sure stayed interesting!

Read through The Last Wish, which is turns out is the second Witcher book written, though chronologically first. I consider this to be a thing that worked out for the best. The stories and writing in this are really good, and consistently surprisingly self aware. There’s a chapter that starts out a goofy cryptid hunt and does a 180 turn and becomes about how the sins of colonialism can never be absolved. My favorite chapter, though, is an interlude that is entirely one “dialogue” between Geralt and a silent nun. He overshares and even mansplains meteorites and it felt very tongue in cheek to me.

I’m currently on The Sword of Destiny, which is the first written Witcher book, and it’s…not really pleasing me so far. Doesn’t feel like it has the self awareness of Last Wish so far, though I’m only some 100 pages in out of ~380. Female characters in both books have their fair share of sexual peril, but Last Wish tried either to validate them or make commentary on them being unable to achieve validation and the society that causes that. So far Sword of Destiny just kind of has it, or even tries to joke about it. Pretty weird! Bad taste in my mouth.

I also read through Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, which is extremely good speculative fiction/fantasy. Very informed by Black American experience, to the point that a few chapters in I found myself baffled at the oppression of the characters not being called out before realizing, uh, duh, that cognitive dissonance is integral to the experience it was conveying. Also, transness and polyamory and trauma/mental illness just played straight with no attempt at contextual justification, which was a welcome change of pace. Essun is a 40 something darkskinned woman who can control the planet with her brainstem and she has no interest in anyone’s bullshit.


#364

I’m almost halfway through Authority, and I’m tempted to abandon it. But, since I almost never quit reading a book I start and because I still see potential in the story, I’ve been kind of forcing myself to read a little more occasionally. I hope it pays off in the end, though unless developments change my mind I can see myself not bothering with the third book.

Somehow VanderMeer is managing to mimic and expand upon the premise of Roadside Picnic–one of my favorite books–while making me unsure whether I care enough about the strange happenings to slog through the other elements of the story.


#365

I’m like halfway through the last book in the Three Body Problem trilogy. These books sure do get dry and characterless! Seems like Liu has so many ideas that cramming them all in means losing the human element. Kind of thing you could read it on Wikipedia and get 90% of the effect. There’s a consistent cycle of setup > twist > quasi-deus-ex-machina that was entertaining, then predictable, then hilarious and back to entertaining again. Given how interesting the ideas are, I’m still having fun reading it.


#366

I felt this way about the first book in the trilogy, haven’t bothered picking up the sequels because I found myself really disappointed with the… shallowness and total lack of uniqueness in Annihilation

Its a story I’ve read dozens of times before, and all of those times were significantly better and more novel.

Reading warmed over JG Ballard meets Strugatsky but this time Mushrooms instead of Crystals or Aliens is far more dull than I expected.


#367

This is pretty much deliberate afaik. For a very prolific author Liu Cixin kind of hates characters and plot. There’s an essay of his where he talks about how his goal as a writer is to create fiction that moves according to geological time rather than the personal experiences of individual humans. It’s kind of an interesting idea but for some reason he still finds it necessary to do things like spend half of the second book talking about the protagonist creating his dream girl or whatever. Plenty of sf authors have done this type of zoomed out storytelling and it works well enough. He has lots of great ideas and I still think the first book is great, but I’m not sure how I feel about the others. I never got through the second one.


#368

I haven’t read the interviews, but from a death of the author perspective, I’d say he’s definitely interested in plot, and just bad at character? Like you say, these books could have been written from a real godseye perspective, but they aren’t. The way each of the meaty sf ideas is couched in a little plot twist cycle is what’s fun about the books.

The first is definitely best, because it balances the author’s natural inclination against something more emotionally interesting. As the books go on, he gets more comfortable just doing what he really wants and the end product is worse and more navelgazing. Very Dune.


#369

Yeah, I was surprised to read that essay, because at least in the first one there are some pretty interesting characters. It can sometimes be hard to judge the tone of these things and maybe it was intended to be more self deprecating than it came across, but he was basically saying “People are boring but physics and space are interesting.” I have a feeling some of his earlier short stories might pull this off more successfully. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the translator massaged a bit more depth out of the characters–Ken Liu basically takes the opposite approach in his own SF (it’s very character/story focused and a lot of the science is basically magical realism), so I feel like the two are a really good pair.


#370

I could definitely see it working much better in a short story, which is a great place to sketch out a single good idea. Onedimensional placeholder characters can do their jobs before they wear out their welcome. It’s the length of the novel that demands depth of its characters - unless they keep changing; but Liu insists on keeping his small clutch of worldmovers around, going as far as to make up weird individual reasons they’d all hibernate so they can show up in all the important eras. Maybe he thinks people are so boring that he’s not even willing to make the effort to keep coming up with new shallow ones?


#371

Also I didn’t realize Ken Liu had his own sf career; I should look into it!


#372

Yeah you gotta read The Paper Menagerie it’s genuinely touching.


#373

This is basically Death’s End. I felt like Liu really wanted to see this universe/situation he created through to the logically absurd ending so more than in the earlier two books there are several points where he basically tosses a life preserver to the necessary characters just to keep things moving.


#374

Luo Ji and Ye Wenjie were the only good characters in that whole trilogy, I thought. I got sick of Cheng Xin after like 5 pages.

Edit: Da Shi was cool too.


#375

I feel literally exactly the same.

With the caveat that the fantasy lady interlude with Luo Ji is interminable.


#377

despite the plan to ration myself to one volume every six months, I read books three and four of karl ove knausgaard’s my struggle over the last two weeks. number five is already sat atop my book stack for when next I crumble

now pottering about rereading passages from my evergreen favourites fernando pessoa’s the book of disquiet and a biography of ludwig wittgenstein

started les miserables on saturday night, with the desire to really sink into a long narrative, but if I do that I will achieve nothing else for the next few weeks, which puts a dampener on my new year plans to be a big achiever


#378

Somehow wound up listening to a Warhammer audiobook over the holiday that I can only describe as splattercamp
I honestly can’t fault it on that basis


#379

Is it one of the ian watson ones


#380

No it’s way more recent (from a quick wiki-ing), it’s called Fabius Bile

It’s about some sort of basically immortal mad chaste bioscientist and his friends seen through the eyes of a louche Renfield type guy and it’s like a really florid Troma movie in print

I kind of want to read more of these, feels like high trash


#381

Do any books have more good sentences than Blood Meridian? (Not even relative to their lengths - just total number.)


#382

No. It’s over now and you should probably just stop reading because it only gets worse from here.

Suttree, maybe. Maybe.


#383

I don’t know about sheer number of good sentences, but I’ve never seen a sentence more… noteworthy than this one from the English tanslation of Kobo Abe’s Woman in the Dunes:

“The morning, pressing its face, like the belly of a snail, against the windowpane, was laughing at him.”

A few more good ones:

“A shiver went through his whole body like a fluorescent light.”

“His fatigue spread out into a sluggish circle, like India ink dropped in water — it was a jellyfish, a scent bag, a diagram of an atomic nucleus.”

“He wanted to believe that his own lack of movement had stopped all movement in the world, the way a hibernating frog abolishes winter.”