The Book Thread

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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Heretic »

Wait, he's a shambling subhumanoid yet his books are great (or at least good)? I'm confused?
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Malchus »

What Vic means, Heretic, is that Card's early stuff is at least worth looking at. Ender's Game and its sequels and side stories also, but the latter start to diminish in quality as you progress. His later stuff, which got infected by more and more rantings fueled by his extreme political views? Not so much.
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Re: The Book Thread

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I'm wondering whether or not to buy Snow Crash. I know it's a modern classic and everything, but I'm kind of burned out on sci-fi in general and genre convention-heavy cyberpunk in particular. I couldn't even make it through Revelation Space, and that's not a particularly thick book by any measure, so I have to wonder if it's worth the time, effort and shelf space...
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Somes J »

Siege wrote:I'm wondering whether or not to buy Snow Crash. I know it's a modern classic and everything, but I'm kind of burned out on sci-fi in general and genre convention-heavy cyberpunk in particular. I couldn't even make it through Revelation Space, and that's not a particularly thick book by any measure, so I have to wonder if it's worth the time, effort and shelf space...
Maybe see if your local library has a copy. I hardly ever actually buy any books, it's much cheaper and less space-intensive to just borrow them.
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by speaker-to-trolls »

I finished Ivanhoe a little while ago, and realised that I'd probably assumed it to be far simpler than it actually was, it is certainly far from a straight up romantic story of knights in shining armour fighting for the love of fair maidens on the field of chivalry and so on. The end of the story involved a lot of less than idea compromises for all the characters, I did Scott a disservice by implying he bought into Richard being a great king just because he killed lots of Muslims, since he describes him as a 'romantic but useless' personality, and almost all the characters have certain sympathetic moments. It's obviously a far more political book than I'd thought, mainly being about the differences between peoples than those between characters, but I don't know nearly enough about the exact politics of when Scott was writing to say what he's alluding to exactly.

Also: Robin Hood is in it and poor Brian de Bois-Guilbert gets the most pathetic cop-out death in history, as far as I'm aware.

Soon after that I actually decided to put my high fantasy project on hiatus because the planning was going nowhere, and read another classic, The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells. I'd read most of it before, the only bit I hadn't read being the very end. I don't think I can say much about it which hasn't been said before, and I've got to admit the political impact is probably a bit less today, with the age of overt 'tally ho chaps, what say we head over the hills and shoot some fuzzywuzzies what' imperialism behind us. It does still come up with a nice image of mankind humbled by a superior species and the way society could break down in the face of such a force, the description of the Martians is also interesting (although it is actually so cliche in scifi now it isn't even used anymore), as beings so far ahead of us their bodies are almost useless, but who can destroy us at will thanks to their technology. I also took more notice this time of the Curate and the Artilleryman, two characters the narrator meets who are two kinds of thoroughly useless people; the hysterical and the fantasist. The curate basically breaks down when the Martians arrive, to the extent he almost gets them both killed, while the Artilleryman builds up a wild fantasy of creating a new, underground civilisation under the Martian's feet to eventually rise up and destroy them, all while building nothing more than a small hole in an abandoned house. It's no wonder that the Tom Cruise film chose to focus on the breakdown of society rather than the anti imperialist message, because whatever the political climate it is always true that civilisation can be very precarious.

I also leafed through the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book which featured the Martian invasion, and I want it when I have the free funds simply for this line:
"You sky-wog bastards! I'll eat you!"
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Artemis »

Siege wrote:I'm wondering whether or not to buy Snow Crash. I know it's a modern classic and everything, but I'm kind of burned out on sci-fi in general and genre convention-heavy cyberpunk in particular. I couldn't even make it through Revelation Space, and that's not a particularly thick book by any measure, so I have to wonder if it's worth the time, effort and shelf space...
I for one highly recommend it - it starts out fast, funny and not in the least bit clunky. However, I will be the first to admit it goes in some very strange (though, at least to me, fascinating) directions toward the end, and there are great whacks of it I didn't understand upon first reading. As for the genre-convention problem, I've never read anything quite like Snow Crash, and I'm pretty well-read when it comes to cyberpunk.

If you'd like to get into Stephenson (who is a fantastic writer in any genre) but still want to avoid Snow Crash, I'd check out either Cryptonomicon or Anathem. They're both meaty reading prospects, but they move along rather speedily for all that. And if you're at all into audiobooks, Anathem has a kick-ass reader and some beautiful music composed specifically for the book, based on... well, you'll have to read/listen to really get how cool it is, that's all I'm going to say for now :)
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Kingmaker »

I'd recommend staying away from Anathem if you've never read anything by Neal Stephenson, on account of it being very thick and frequently opaque. It doesn't help that the book is written in what is essentially a constructed dialect of english.

For starters I would recommend the Diamond Age, which, despite initial appearances, is not cyberpunk, or the Cryptonomicon, which is lengthy, esoteric, and hysterical. Be forewarned in general that if you like tightly plotted books Stephenson may grate. While there is an over arching plot in each one, he prefers to take the scenic route to the ending.
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Artemis »

Oh I dunno, I think if you can make it through Lord of the Rings, you can make it through Anathem. But that's just me, maybe.
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Kingmaker »

Artemis wrote:Oh I dunno, I think if you can make it through Lord of the Rings, you can make it through Anathem. But that's just me, maybe.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I loved Anthem. But a lot of people complained about how it contained Stephenson's writing vices in spades. I don't think any reasonably intelligent person would have difficulty with the language of Anathem, but they might just not want to read something written in what amounts to constructed dialect.

On a completely different note, I highly recommend Finch, by Jeff Vandermeer, to anyone who likes Urban Fantasy. It's extremely dark detective noir set in a city that has been occupied by an army of fungus monsterpeople. It's fairly short (a little over 300 pages) and reads extremely quickly after you get past the first chapter or so. It's also a shining example of weird fiction, as the bizarreness quotient starts out high and just keeps ramping up.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Heretic »

Once again, I am trying to read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, and though I had a bias against it already, the book is making it worse (again). It just drones on and on and on and on and on...


...on and on about how clumsy Isabella is and how stunning Edward is, and how Isabella looks indifferently at her human friends like a Randian character...hell, the book sorta reads like an Ayn Rand novel, except Ayn Rand had enough economics and business to keep me interested. Twilight doesn't even give me that luxury. How did Bella suddenly fall in love with Edward? They didn't even give me much of a development. Just a dream and then Bella looking forward to Edward.

And her personality! AGHHRGH! I hope the sequels give her more development than this piece of oatmeal crap. Hell, I could make a story about a bowl of plain oatmeal and make it much more interesting, because instead of wasting space droning on about how the character is so plain that all the boys come and read Jane Austen (and is great at school), I'll use my time wisely and add Viking air pirates, sexy sniper chicks, and maybe our heroic bowl of oatmeal can go back in time and play alongside Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, which I'm listening to drown out the images of Edward in the dark forest, half his body open to the sun rays as he sparkles in Bella's dream.

Damn. I'm looking forward to read Moby Dick for my purification ritual.
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Somes J »

So I've started reading Ursula LeGuin's The Telling. I haven't read any LeGuin before (except for a couple of short stories) so this is something new for me.

So I've read 1 chapter so far...

There's grimdark with Earth apparently being some kind of theocratic shithole

Main characters joins Starfleet some kind of diplomatic and scientific exchange program to get away from grimdark Earth. I kind of like the idea of what seems to be a vaguely Federation-esque body where Earth isn't a majorly significant founding member so points there.

So she goes to her posting which is basically MAOIST CHINA IN SPAAACE!!!

lol poor bastard

There's a bit where they're talking about how the Space Maoists destroyed every bit of their pre-revolution literature a la Fahrenheit 451 which sucks for her because her speciality is supposed to be studying that aspect of the planet's culture, and they have like no way of knowing anything about what the planet was like before the Space Cultural Revolution because the Space Maoists destroyed like everything from before then.

Mainly what sticks out is one thing they don't say. Whatever the old order was like I can guess one thing about it: it wasn't too popular. There may be exceptions to this but as a general rule I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest you probably won't get stuff like a highly successful group that wants to destroy basically everything of the old social order in a society that's stable and has popular leaders and a social order people are generally comfortable with. It seems an interesting angle to go curiously uncommented on: what kind of shitty conditions inspire the success of a movement like super-Maoist technocrats who ban religion and burn every book written before the last 50 years? I suppose maybe they only started that stuff after they got in power but I can't help thinking it looks like the kind of movement that grows out of a really dysfunctional previous society.

It'll be interesting to see where this goes.

I'll probably write a proper review after I finish the book but I just felt like getting my initial impressions down.
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Somes J »

OK, I've just finished my current round of reading material:

Alastair Reynold's Absolution Gap
Ursula K LeGuin's The Telling

Here goes:


Alastair Reynolds's Absolution Gap:

I'd have preferred to read the Revelation Space series in order, but my library has a pretty limited selection of Reynolds unfortunately and Absolution Gap was all they had. Thankfully the book wasn't hard to follow for missing its prequels, partially because the narrative was fairly self-contained and straightforward and partially because Reynolds put in a bit of exposition about what happened before.

I thought the book was, in general, Reynolds's usual standard of quality, which is to say quite good. I can't really say much else about it. I only really have a couple of issues. The way the timeline jumped around was a little confusing at first, and Rashmika's real identity was pretty predictable long before it was actually revealed. My main issue is the ending, the whole thing with the Greenfly was just weirdly rushed. The hint at the Shadows actually being future humans was neat, but introducing a new alien culture and a new totally unrelated enemy in the last two chapters or so was just weird. I got the feeling that either there was supposed to be a whole other book after this or it's some sort of sequel hook ("the Greenfly and the Nestbuilders will return in..."). Altogether definitely a recommended read though.


Ursula K Le Guin's The Telling:

I said I'd review this one earlier so here goes. In terms of being an enjoyable read it's pretty decent. It doesn't have anywhere near the level of nerd candy as my favored kind of sci fi (Reynolds, Watts etc.) and to a certain extent I missed that, but on the narrative/dramatic level it was fairly solid. It did give me a sense of Aka as a fully realized world rather than X country in space, which I liked. I have some issues with the book though.

For one thing, Le Guin is bad at conservation of detail, at least judging from this book. There were these plot elements that just seemed like weird red herrings, tangentially related to the plot but not really driving it. The second Terran ship was a good example; it was foreshadowed to be plot significant but turned out not to be really (more on that later). Another one was the parts where Le Guin randomly drops hints of magic into an apparently hard SF universe for no apparent compelling reason is another. Yeah, the bit with the wind "miraculously" crashing the Monitor's helicopter was important to the plot, but there was no particular reason to invoke voodoo shenanigans to bring down a helicopter, especially in a situation like that.

My real issues though are with the book as a novel of ideas, which it clearly is intended as.

Firstly, it took me a while to put my finger on this, but the book displays a marked reluctance to empathize with the enemy; to get inside their heads, see the world as they see it. The Unists are the more obvious example: they're totally generic religious fundamentalists who are never described in any detail. They exist to prove a rhetorical point and give Sutty a tragic backstory. There is literally one thing about them that isn't completely generic, and that's an offhand mention that their leaders wear mirrored masks. They're a shell. It's less obvious with the repressive rationalist Akan state; they're not painfully generic and therefore seem much more interesting, they get much more exposition, they're antagonists rather than backstory. But even there, the author seems remarkably unintested in them. There's probably an interesting story about how such a movement came to be and came to power, one with a lot of drama and pain - scary zealots who want to completely destroy the old social order and have enough popularity and leverage to get and keep power sounds like something that comes out of a deeply dysfunctional society. But it's told only in vague, broad strokes, and only from the perspective of their victims. The only representative of the Akan state who's an actual character is the Monitor/Yara, and what's his motivation? As far as I can tell a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. He hasn't thought it through, he hasn't read about Earth's grimdark theocratic regime and decided his planet will never have that (that would be very lulsy for reasons that take too long to explain), he hasn't grown up hearing his parents tell him horror stories about the bad old days, he hasn't even grown up with the propaganda and believed it all. All those are things I would in a way have respected more. No, he was drawn to it in a way that completely dodges the question of how it could be seductive in its own right to somebody who wasn't stupid or moustache-twirling evil.

I can't help thinking of that as reflecting a certain closed-mindedness or cowardice. It's easy to see your antagonists as stupid or deluded or ignorant or too traumatized/whatever to think straight or moustache twirlers who are everything you dislike. But those are cop-outs. The hard thing is to acknowledge, understand, and address how people who are human just like you can believe in and fight for things you find monstrous. And this book doesn't really give me that.

The flipside of this is that I sense a certain reluctance in the book to lay any blame for the situation on the practitioners of the old Akan religion - even though the situation has all the hallmarks of an oppressive elite that got overthrown and the revolutionaries turned out to be just as bad or worse. In the beginning of the book there's speculation that the grimdark theocratic regime on Earth coverly sent missionaries to Aka and this somehow led to the emergence of the modern Akan state. I desperately hoped it was a red herring because the idea made me want to puke. Oh no, the scary zealots who run Aka didn't spring from and ride resentment of an unpleasant society - it was all the fault of an alien snake in the garden, which incidentally came from those terrestrial religious fundamentalists who are an obvious representation of an RL ideology the author hates. Very noble savage. Blargh. Thankfully it isn't that bad; the book gives us hints that the holy men had become an oppressive elite caste. But even there there's an element of distancing. The boss maz weren't just maz who were subject to the foibles of human nature - it was the fault of those Dovzans barbarians who were doing it wrong. That's the same ethnic group who apparently created and run the modern Akan state. Blargh. If I were to look at this from an SoD point of view I'd guess we're getting more than a little distancing and racism at work from the informants - but if that was author's intent I had to read really hard between the lines to get it.

Another thing. That speculation about the Earth theocrats sending missionaries to Aka. Turned out it was true. It was apparently a red herring, but it was true. I thought it would have been much more interesting to have the second Terran ship be not missionaries but people running away from the Unists. That fits a lot better with the nature the Akan state, its emphasis on rationality and banning of religion. Influenced by people who saw religion do a lot of bad on their own planet? Maybe relatively well-meaning people, but traumatized, prejudiced to see any kind of religion or spiritualism as threatening? There's another thing would have made the narrative less black and white; that I would have respected more.

TL;DR: I thought it needed more shades of grey.
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Re: The Book Thread

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A big thank-you to all the people who recommended Snow Crash despite my reservations: I began reading it in earnest on the train to Berlin, and I blazed through it. It's a great read, very fascinating, wonderful characterizations. I loved the hell out of the book, even though the ending was kind of abrupt and I personally would like to learn more about the fates of several characters. On occasion the book does tend to ramble a bit, and a few chapters in the last third are very heavy on the exposition (particularly the bits with the Librarian), but even so I really liked it and am glad to have it in my personal library. I mean, who can resist a book where the Mafia is an organized franchise with its own ultrafast pizza delivery cars and stealth choppers? Oh, and Y.T. was one of the best characters I've read about in months, too!
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Re: The Book Thread

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In my favourite second-hand bookstore I found this book:

Image

Written by two guys I'd never heard of before (William Barton and Michael Capobianco), Fellow Traveler is a story about, according to the background blurb, how "as the new century dawns, the Soviets are erclaiming the high frontier. After a decade of social upheaval, they have embarked on a bold gamble - moving a massive asteroid into Earth's orbit to harvest its mother lode of precious metals.

But the reactionary leadership of the United States sees the project as a potential weapon. They are willing to risk everything to stop it - even the destruction of all life on Earth!"


I knew I had to buy this thing the moment I saw it. Holy shit, it's a book about Soviet spacemen making American presidents sweat profusely! With a plot that could've been a CSW story, except that this was written in 1991! It's visionary!
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Off naked Chatham show,
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Artemis »

Oh man, Siege, have I got a treat for you.

Image

The world is only half made. What exists has been carved out amidst a war between two rival factions: the Line, paving the world with industry and claiming its residents as slaves; and the Gun, a cult of terror and violence that cripples the population with fear. The only hope at stopping them has seemingly disappeared—the Red Republic that once battled the Gun and the Line, and almost won. Now they’re just a myth, a bedtime story parents tell their children, of hope. To the west lies a vast, uncharted world, inhabited only by the legends of the immortal and powerful Hill People, who live at one with the earth and its elements. Liv Alverhyusen, a doctor of the new science of psychology, travels to the edge of the made world to a spiritually protected mental institution in order to study the minds of those broken by the Gun and the Line. In its rooms lies an old general of the Red Republic, a man whose shattered mind just may hold the secret to stopping the Gun and the Line. And either side will do anything to understand how.

The highest praise I can give this book is that it has cured my jonesing for more Dark Tower better than anything since that series ended. I'm not even halfway through, and this is already the best book I've read this year.

Also, oh hell yes, Y.T. is definitely one of the coolest cyberpunk heroines ever.
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Somes J »

Just read Vernor Vinge's A Deepness In the Sky.

This is one of those books that I can honestly say I like pretty much totally without reservation. I suppose if I tried I could find something to quibble about in it, but I'd have to try. I just found it generally totally awesome. I suppose the best way to break this down would be to just list the highlights:

1) The portrayal of a very old and spread out interstellar humanity. It was kind of a depressing vision of a totally fragmented interstellar species, where local civilizations collapsed and clawed themselves back up to technology and maybe collapsed again all the time, but that was cool because it really made me sympathize with Pham Nuwen's desire to set up a true interstellar government that could stop that from happening. I would have been totally on board with trying to find a way to make that project work, to "break the wheel of history" (God that's an awesome phrase). But at the same time the people who disagreed with and opposed that vision also came off as decent and intelligent and having good reasons for their opposition, so I wasn't pissed off when the book didn't exactly cheerlead for his vision, and to a certain extent made giving it up part of his character growth. It also made for a nice ending, with a nice sense of tentative renewed hope. Despite all its deliberate relative technological primitivism the setting also felt genuinely futuristic and not like the present or the past with serial numbers filed off, which is something I've ranted on a lot. And said deliberate primitivism was also for once not annoying not just because of that but because I had the sense of intelligent people who'd run into limitations and were squeezing the best they could out of their technology within those limits not "they can build mile-long dildodreads with 9999 gigaton lazors but for some reason everyone is apparently too stupid or luddite to apply that tech to anything not starship and pew pew related".

2) The antagonists managed to be intimidating and creepy (especially at the beginning) without coming across as comic book villains. I liked how Tomas Nau recognized the value of being "nice" when it served him, but it didn't stop him from being a complete bastard. And the Focus thing was pretty interesting, especially when the book got a little into the ethical questions of it, like whether it would be justifiable to use such a powerful but inherently ethically problematic technology for the betterment of mankind, or the bit at the end where
Trixia didn't want to be fully deFocused
3) I thought the Spiders were very well done aliens. Vinge managed to present them in a way that made them easy to empathize and sympathize with while still leaving them believably alien.

4) I just generally thought the plotting and everything was very well done. Like I liked how at the end Murphy bit both the protagonists and the antagonists. I liked how as the Emergents were carrying out their Sinister Plan (TM) you could see lots of little things going wrong for them here and there, like that Spider astronomer who spotted their ship realizing that something was fishy when his messages were getting the automated thank you note treatment. Also I loved the part where
The Spiders staged a coup through the Focused translators
That was a great twist, I didn't see that coming at all.

This book is a 10 out of 10 as far as I'm concerned.
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by speaker-to-trolls »

I have just read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. No, this is not an adaptation of the Doctor Who episode with the angels that come to life when you don't look at them, it's a book about rapid cognition, which he calls doing things by blink. This means essentially that decisions you make in the space of a few seconds, based upon subconscious calculation, are often just as good or better than those you can make after long and careful analysis. Can be, the book points out that this isn't necessarily true and, more to the point, your ability to judge instantly can be improved upon. The book talks at some length about how experts are able to judge the quality of things instantly because they have absorbed huge amounts of subtle information about their chosen subject, as well as learning to think about the subject in a more detailed manner than the common person (there's an example of the insane level of detail food tasters have for discussing the taste of fizzy drinks). The thing about it being better than long considered cognition is something which I found interesting, since the book claims that having too much information for your decision can cause you to spend too long trying to work out your decision because you have to weigh up all the options, consciously and subconsciously, and may decide not to choose any of the available options. This hit me because it's something that happens to me quite often.

The book had a little too anecdotal a style for me, I would have preferred there were more references for the studies it cited. I also didn't agree with some of its conclusions, which seemed to praise the unconscious cognitive process where it doesn't actually make sense given what the book says.

Next, I am going to attempt a speed reading of The Glorious Qu'ran, my translation of the central book of the world's second largest religion, the text around which countless schools of thought and philosophy have been based, on which empires have been built, great works of beauty and science have been achieved and hideous wars have been fought. Hopefully I should know a few quotes to throw at the Islamic Society next week :P
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speaker-to-trolls
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by speaker-to-trolls »

Well, I last posted here many months ago and am sorry to say that the Qur'an has, predictably enough, beaten me. Even though mine is an ostensibly quite modern translation and is covered in footnotes and commentary, and is supposedly easier on the brain for Brits since it was written by an English convert, I still found it impossibly difficult to get through or to make sense of. You win this round, Muhammad/Allah (delete as applicable).

So I have over the last month gone in completely the opposite direction and read The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, a book which, though its main purpose is not to disprove the existence of God per se, was written to prove that the existence of such is not necessary for the existence of life in the universe. The book is, in fact, all about how blind probability can, over a very long time, allow for the development of very complicated things, which might look to us as if they were built by intelligence, to come about. How long? Well he explains at one point how one species arising from another in 100,000 years is almost instantaneous in geological terms. Now you could fit the whole history of human civiliisation, from the first collection of semi permanent mud huts on a hill in Turkey to the glorious and horrifying edifice that is the modern world, into that time period ten times over and leave at least enough time to replay that history starting from the first King of Upper and Lower Egypt. So, over those eldritch aeons, the little slimy crystals inside me, you (except those of you who are secretly AIs, you know who you are) and all other things replicate themselves, and as they do they sometimes make mistakes, sometimes the mistakes mean more crystals are replicated, and that is the basics of the whole book, and the whole of biological life.

It is really one of those books which makes me look at things in a slightly different way, even though I have read some of Dawkins' work before and, since I am studying the same subject as him, I know many of these facts already. But it's still strange to be reminded, being a human and living in a world full of design and intent, that everything in nature essentially happens by chance and probability following impersonal physical laws. I also learned a little about the nuances of evolutionary theory and the conflicts within it (there is a chapter on differences in the field of taxonomy which I shall have to reread so that I can make sense of it) and a few weird kinds of discredited evolutionary theory like 'mutationism', 'saltationism' and 'lamarckism' (I did know about the last one, but I didn't know precisely why it was wrong before now).

It was a very interesting book and one which demonstrates why Dawkins holds the post of Professor for the Communication of Science, he really is a good writer, considering that he is explaining quite abstract things about evolution to people who are not necessarily scientists and at all times stressing the fact that it is indeed a blind process. That is the hardest part, I think, since like I said we live surroundewd by intentions and designs, and that is the most obvious way to see things, but The Blind Watchmaker makes it perfectly clear that those things are for human beings and human beings alone.

Next I think I will keep on the same tack and finally read my copy of The Selfish Gene
"Little monuments may be completed by their first architects, but great ones; true ones leave their copestones to posterity. God keep me from completing anything."
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Czernobog
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Czernobog »

So, I just finished reading Wolf Hunt: The Burning Ages, a recently released (July 2011) book from Sebastian P. Breit, who is a member of my alternate history board. Wolf Hunt is a story about time travel, specifically from the decaying future world of 2024 to the height of WW2 - 1940. And it is very awesome. The writing is excellent, barring a few malapropisms and clunky sentences. And the time-travellers are not wanktastic as commmonly happens in such stories - they take casualties despite their technological superiority, most notably during the
Berlin coup at the climax.
All characters are believable. All in all, I recommend Wolf Hunt to anybody wanting good time travel fiction.
You have ruled this galaxy for ten thousand years.
You have little of account to show for your efforts.
Order. Unity. Obedience.
We taught the galaxy these things.

And we shall do so again.
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Booted Vulture »

Arise dead thread! Arise! I break one of the seven laws of wizardry send the warden's after me.

Ok mobius. I just finished Small Favours :(:(:(

Total downer ending. I'm so depressed now. I don't know whether I want to read the next book or not. I want to know more details about a certain someone and yet I dread them as well.

Also Harry has a super special power and destiny. Urgh.
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Mobius 1 »

They've set up the destiny thing for a while now - he holds power over Outsiders, but that's pretty much all I know.

And yeah, if you think Small Favor (Ever notice how the titles always have the same amount of letters[/americafuckyeah]) had a downer ending, I mean, christ, Turn Coat and Changes will fuck you up.
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Booted Vulture
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Booted Vulture »

Mobius 1 wrote:They've set up the destiny thing for a while now - he holds power over Outsiders, but that's pretty much all I know.
Yes but up until now I've been able to ignore it because its stupid. Now he's all super silverhand of doom
And yeah, if you think Small Favor (Ever notice how the titles always have the same amount of letters[/americafuckyeah]) had a downer ending, I mean, christ, Turn Coat and Changes will fuck you up.
Do you mean this? Cause the two other title you mentioned have fewer letters. And titles like Proven Guilty and Summer Knight are longer. Unless you mean both words in the title have the same number of letters. But then my copy spells Favour correctly. So its not true there.


eta; And I'd been spoilered about Changes' ending since like before starting the series I think. Still Turn Coat. Hoping none of the other nice characters getting killed/maimed. (hmm just realised. The author's called BUTCHER right. This does not bode well) Do in some character I don't care about why don't you? Like Thomas or Kincaid or someone.


Anyway, know I'm moving on to The Return Of The King I'd forced myself through The Hobbit, Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers before christmas and now I return to finish it off, Was surprised by seeing it was the biggest book on the shelf but then realised that's only because of the frelling huge appendices.
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Somes J
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Somes J »

So I've been thinking of finding some Warhammer 40K stuff to read to acquaint myself with the universe beyond just internet stuff, I'm more interested in the philosophical and social side of the setting than the pew pews and spehs mehreens beating people up, and somebody linked to me an online copy of Graham McNeill's The Last Church.

IMPRESSIONS

I kind of liked it, but I think more for the atmosphere and implied stuff than the actual core of the story. I'm not sure I'm the biggest fan of the "debate thinly disguised as story" format for exploring philosophy in fiction, it's a rather heavy-handed technique I think, and the arguments weren't really anything special. Revelation wasn't really saying anything I couldn't probably get from internet atheists, and Uriah was even less impressive, sort of just going "BUT, BUT I BELIEVE, I HAD A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, ALSO FAITH IS IMPORTANT", but I might be biased there because I'm an atheist myself. The whole dialog kind of feels like two stereotypes arguing. Uriah in particular I think could have been better; he should have pointed out some of the flaws and hypocrisy in the Emperor, but I'll get to that later.

The story has good stuff too though, it just mostly isn't found in these guys talking to each other. For one thing I think it did a good job with the atmosphere. I really got a sense of an interesting world enduring painful change from a grim and violent past to an uncertain future. It makes me think, quite apart from being 40K backstory, this world sounds like it would make an interesting setting in itself.

In some ways I think the story actually works better when you forget it's supposed to be in 40K. For instance, Revelation's references to the Crusades, Middle Ages, Aztecs etc. (at least that's what I think he's referencing) feels anachronistic if this is supposed to be 30,000 years from now - really, you couldn't think of anything more current? Wouldn't this stuff probably be really obscure history after 30,000 years? If it's 30,000 CE and most of the examples of religion being evil you can think of are from the Middle Ages I'd say it sounds like religion has been doing pretty well at avoiding evil stuff. But if you forget about the outside context it doesn't sound bad in the story itself, because the story doesn't give you the impression the world it takes place in is so distant from our own. If I had go guess, based just on the story, how much time has passed since today I'd guess something more like a few thousand years. And that actually fits with Revelation saying that religion lost its power over life "just before the descent" into the dark age, which makes it sound like the previous technological era was not long. That line gives me the picture of a brief bloom of science and reason between long primitive ages, not 25,000 years of science and reason ended by a 5000 year dark age.

Which gets into the portrayal of the Emperor (alias Revelation), which I'd say is a good character study but not one consistent with what I'd expect from what I've already heard of him. This guy does not seem like a 40,000 year old Methuselah who's watched all of civilized human history pass him by. This Emperor feels much younger than that.

I compared him earlier to an internet atheist, and he really does remind me of the kind of atheists you find at Stardestroyer.net, exhibiting both the potential virtues and vices of that mindset. He comes off as compassionate and angry, dismissive of present society and wanting to tear it down and rebuild it into something better, full of dreams and determination and ruthlessness to make those dreams reality, and dismissive of people who refuse to get with his program and willing to use violence and repression against them.

I once heard it said that if you want to understand a man look at what the world was like when he was in his twenties, and if I had to guess based on this story when the Emperor was in his twenties it would be sometime during the modern era - not our modern era, but the era when this world was already emerging from its postapocalyptic dark age. An era when social and technological change was changing the way humans had been accustomed to living, often painfully, when science was beginning to cast doubt on traditional truths, when a spirit of questioning and inquiry was in the air and people were turning that high-powered perception on society, questioning whether we really needed or wanted kings or the traditional rules or gods, when traditional authorities and structures were increasingly seen as unnecessary and oppressive, when weapons were becoming more powerful and war was becoming more destructive. That's the kind of culture that shapes a perspective like that.

I would guess that the Emperor was born into the grim and violent world the story paints a picture of, that he grew up drinking the brew described in the last paragraph, that he hated the grim and violent world and dreamed of something better, that he was perhaps a powerful sorcerer or something along those lines (how else to explain stuff like his healing touch, his lack of aging?) and that he got into a position where he could actually try to make his dreams reality.

This actually makes me wonder if maybe the accepted origin story for the Emperor is wrong, and he is much younger than that, born during the dark age. Maybe during the dark age humanity turned increasingly to apocalyptic religion or dreams of recapturing the lost technological golden age, and in doing so collectively called out into the warp for a savior, and the Emperor was the result of that? That actually seems like it would fit well with the themes of 40K - the Emperor was literally the answer to humanity's prayers, and if he's a violent man at heart, well, that might have something to do with that apocalyptic religions are often not exactly nice. That would make for an interesting duality - there's the compassionate side of him, arising from people dreaming of a compassionate savior that would help them, but also the violent side, arising from people dreaming of a warrior savior who'd smite the infidels and punish the sinners and drive their enemies before him.

Of course, ironically, if the Emperor grew up in a brutal world dominated by missionary religion it's pretty natural to imagine that his own humanist beliefs would arise both in reaction against and imitation of that, and that appears to have been what happened. It's funny hearing him talk about how bad religion is, because he seems guilty of many of the same things. He's launched a global war of conquest so he can force humanity down the path of his dreams. His armies are implied to commit massacres of surrendered soldiers and genocide, and who knows what other attrocities we never got the chance to hear of. He says he wants to get rid of religion because it divides people - wouldn't converting everyone to the same religion also eliminate the divisions? At the end of the story his soldiers destroy beautiful and historical art because it's religious, and burn down a building with a living man in it (granted technically Uriah committed suicide, but the Emperor's acts were pretty clearly what drove him to it, and he didn't make any attempt to stop him or talk him out of it). And when he's done taking over the world his dream is to conquer the humans on other planets and make them follow him too, until all of humanity is forced to follow his path. He really comes off as a guy who's reacted to the evils of one missionary creed by ... forming another missionary creed, just an ostensibly rationalist one without a god or an afterlife, and trying to convert the world to it by the sword. And he seems completely oblivious to the irony.

I suppose this could tie in neatly with what eventually happened to the Emperor and his Imperium - that it became exactly the kind of society he hated. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And the Emperor's ideas on how to reform society set off a big LESSON NOT LEARNED bell in my mind.

Which is part of the reason I found Uriah's arguments particularly disappointing - if the author wanted him to make a credible case he could have ripped into the Emperor with this. I get a sense that there's something to the idea that despite the Emperor being chronologically older it is Uriah who is older, not just in body and in representing the past, but in that Uriah is more mature. I see parallel between Uriah's description of his young self and the picture I have in mind here of the young Emperor - they're both men who were angry at the world as it was and wanted to do something to make it better. The difference is that the Emperor has never had an experience like Gaduare, never had to question his angry determination to tear apart and remake the world like Uriah had to. Uriah has had his desire to make the world better tempered with a realization of his own limitations in a way the Emperor has not had.

Then again, maybe it wasn't so bad that Uriah failed to capitalize on this - show, not tell. But given how the story pretty much centers around them talking I can't help thinking that's likely giving the author too much credit, in supposing the dialog was intended to never actually land on a huge point of the "faith vs. Imperial Truth" debate. I mean, it sort of did when Uriah said he feared the future the Emperor was creating and didn't want a part of it, but he never seemed to hit on the point that the Emperor was fundamentally acting a lot like the warrior prophet of a violent missionary religion.

Like I said, I think there's some good stuff here (or at least stuff you can read good stuff into), but I'm not sure how well it fits into 40K in general - though I've got to say, I rather prefer Young Emperor to Shaman Emperor. Aside from that I don't really like the "well, he basically sat on a bus for 40,000 years" part of the Emperor's backstory, the Young Emperor feels more human, more like a character I could actually understand and get in the head of.
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Somes J
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Somes J »

So I got Robert Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and the American Decline for somebody else and read a little bit in it.

It's actually kind of interesting. He seems to diagnose the reasons behind present social trends in ways I'm inclined to agree with (e.g. the greater convenience and living standard of modern society being behind the rise of liberalism), but when it comes to what those trends represent we seem to be 180s. What he calls degeneration I call progress. We seem to be thinking along similar lines about the mechanics of social trends, but have a 180 perspective on interpreting them.
Participate in my hard SF worldbuilding project: The Known Galaxy. Come to our message board and experience my unique brand of terribleness!

"One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience."
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

"Open your mind and hear what your heart wants to deny."
Samuel Anders, nBSG, Daybreak, Part 2.
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Re: The Book Thread

Post by Ford Prefect »

Actually speaking of degeneration, I finished No Country For Old Men today. I finished The Road faster, but I read that on the plane back from Japan so had heaps of time. I think Blood Meridian was more powerful, but once again Cormac McCarthy demonstrates his incredible talent. If you haven't read McCarthy yet, I suggest you make a point of picking up one of his novels. The Road seems the most accessible yet conveys his incredible power with language well.
FEEL THESE GUNS ARCHWIND THESE ARE THE GUNS OF THE FLESHY MESSIAH THE TOOLS OF CREATION AND DESTRUCTION THAT WILL ENACT THE LAW OF MAN ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
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