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But first - Person of Interest...we're done, I'm afraid.

Currently Reading

Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett. I kind of have a thing for trains, but a highly judgmental and specific one (I have an exceedingly complex relationship with the works of China Mieville.) I also quite like the other two Moist books. So I want to like this and it's pleasant enough, but it's not exactly great reading either. Everything seems tepid and bloodless. There's no tension, no surprises, no insights, not even a lot of humor. It's all settled into very comfortable grooves with everyone just acting nice and sensible and stuff. There are no relationships, you know?

Lud in the Mist, Hope Mirlees. Extremely charming but I haven't gotten very far yet. I'm curious to see where it goes, it seems like there's a hard, interesting streak there under the cuteness. I'll be disappointed if it's not explored, I suspect.

Recently Finished

Eighty Days, by Matthew Goodman, non-fiction about Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Blisand's race around the world in 1889. Not very interesting and written in an annoyingly cliched, semi-novelized sort of style which is really annoying. Even the underlying events weren't particularly interesting, truth be told, since the whole thing basically went totally smoothly.

Heh.

Nov. 13th, 2013 11:34 pm
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Reading Maphead, by Ken Jennings, (which as far as I can tell is a whole book about being into maps) and in two (short) chapters there has already been a correct but colloquially flexible use of the word "fandom" (wrt maps,) as well as "grok" and an Arrested Development and (probably) a Big Bang Theory reference. It's one of those moment that is slightly wistful but also cheerfully humbling and reminds me that my particular combination of eclectic geeky pursuits and obsessions isn't that unique, and lots of people who are into maps are also into science fiction are also into tea and so on and so forth. I'm not that special :-)
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I finally have books to talk about again! Yay!

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie was great. Not perfect - the ending is a touch clunky and abrupt - but really interesting and original, and proper military far future SF, but with a focus on women and characterization. Or, well, it's probably a focus on women. One of the minor conceits of the book is that the native language (and culture) of most of the characters isn't gendered, so everyone is almost always "she" and "her" by default, though some of them are explicitly mentioned to be men and with many it's just unknown.

A lot of the reviews over on Goodreads seem to really sallivate over this gender-angle as somehow mindblowing, which makes me disappointed for SF readers and the human race. Did Ursula K. LeGuin not happen, hello? It's a mildly interesting beat of worldbuilding, and it's fun to read and to puzzle through and think about the narrators perspective, and what she's missing and what she's picking up and why - the mix of language and culture and her own background (as an ancient, once vastly powerful, all-knowing ship's AI now trapped in a human body) but gender isn't really, actually a theme in the book, you know? That removed perspective is fascinating though - watching her watch several cultures, including her native one, and considering how true or how skewed the perspective we get is made the book for me. Also, there's a pretty good villain.


The Abominable, by Dan Simmons - I really enjoyed The Terror, which was also about doomed expeditions trapped in ice in great, great detail, but this one kind of sucked. Simmons is still a competent writer, even when he's going off the deep end, so it's readable, but the ending is absurd, possibly downright bizarre. The super-detailed mountain climbing stuff isn't nearly as interesting as the minituae of 19th c. arctic exploration logistics in the Terror and the characters are pretty boring, which is a shame. Just a waste of an awesome concept.


One Summer: America 1927, by Bill Bryson. Bryson is just fun to read, as always, and he's got an eye for what's interesting and weird and speaks to what I would like to know, in terms of getting a sense of the spirit of a time or place. This is pretty flimsy as a history book, I suppose, but it's solidly entertaining and I learned a lot. It's also kind of a primer on several things I had heard of but did not actually ever have solidly in my head, like who Babe Ruth was. (Let's put it this way - It would have only guessed about fifty/fifty that he was a baseball player.)
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Recently Read

I went off and read Under the Dome, after wanting to kill the tv show for being so, so stupid, so now at least i've read a Stephen King book all the way through. It was actually ok. Very readable, for something that is almost 18000 kindleblobs long. 18000. (Thats second only to A Dance With Dragons, in terms of things ever read on kindle, and ADWD has like a hundred pages of appendices.) So there was still some skimming involved, but mostly it was very readable. I ended up taking the story more as a sort of...fable, that an attempt at realism. Its moralistic, political, didactic. That's the point. Every mystery, every subplot, every character arc, all circle back to The Message. (It reminded me of Rowling's The Casual Vacancy that way, which is also a tale of small town depravity with a tonally incogrous ending.)I thought it was fairly effective, so I'm ok with that, but I can see how people would get annoyed with the resolution if they're not reading it that way. Spoiler Read more... )

William Gibson, Pattern Recognition was ok. Gibson has a way of picking out these little human moments amidst all the technology. I guess that's what all of cyberpunk is trying to do, really, but he actually pulls it off. That said, the ending was meh, plot-wise, and I'm not sure what the balance of the book really was, in terms of the ideas he's bringing up - critical or supportive? Alienating or cool? There was a cake-and-eat it quality, where the hunt of marketable cool is so much consumerist nonsense (the best line of the book is "she had once met the actual Mexican who first wore his baseball cap backwards"), yet all the characters are carefully, endlessly, unimpeccably preciously cool and all live in perfect, minimalist apartments and wear gorgeous monochrome clothes and so on that are lovingly described all the time. There's a lot about the internet (yes, um, duh) that is familiar and intimate - forums as home spaces, the nuances of internet friendships, the way they cross into the real world - but it isn't novel, just accurate (which, to be fair, a lot of literature, including sf, still isn't that way, about the web as a lived experience) and maybe more so from 2002. The books does feel more recent than that. So that's something.

Gave up on Around India in 80 Trains. What a waste of a concept. Totally banal. I appreciate that there's no attempt to exoticize India in the book, but there's no attempt to do anything else either. There's just a sort of dull, jaded misery. "Went to temple. Oh, look at all the terrible silly tourists, doing the exact thing I am. But I'm not taking it seriously, hah!" No actual description of temple appears. So, um, what are we reading here? In the end, I came to appreciate the descriptions of the tourists, mocking as they are. Theres at least a glimpse of the real there. (Oh, less said about the trains the better. No background information whatsoever, no research, no history, no statistics, no nothing.) But mostly it's just moody, navel-gazing and bland. It would be an ok blog, if you actually knew this person. Not sure why it became a book.
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Good grief, it's Wednesday again?

Finished Recently

Ripped through The Glass God, the new Kate Griffin book, in a day (well, mostly in a night.) I still find the series really fun and readable, and at the same time still a tiny bit frustrating, when it comes to characters. This one seemed to have a lot of potential, with Matthew missing and very vulnerable and and Sharon having to step up and stuff, but all that interesting chewiness gets sidelined for quippy dialogue and set pieces and convoluted mystery-murder-mayhem plot and so on. So, par the course. At some point I'm just going to have to accept this series is never going to grow into the complex exploration of urban alienation and the social underpinning of humanity that I would like, but not yet!

Frankenstein. Don't quite know what to think about it, really. I figure all the thoughts have already been thought. Personally, it hits me in the same place most things do. Isolation, alienation, etc. I can see the SF-Fantasy elements thought. SFF is so often about that kind of stuff - what does it mean to be human? Where is the line of that drawn? Who gets to define it? It's kind of nice to see that it's not contemporary liberal angsting but is right there at the roots of the genre. The monster begs, desperately, for connection, but Frankenstein refuses, but he (Frankenstein) can't conceive of himself as bound in a web of connections. He's constantly surprised that the monster - that anything - could come at him through the people around him. It just never seems to occur to him that all those threats aren't about him.

On the non-fiction front, 1913 by Charles Emmerson was kinda meh. A sort of world-portrait of 1913, organized by major cities. It should have been right up my alley but fell a little flat. It is nicely readable and the focus on cities is novel and welcome, but it ends up straying too wide. If I wanted to read about the Meiji restoration or the Young Turks or Habsburg disintegration or whathaveyou, i'd go read about them, and not in ten page snapshots. What I wanted was to know what kind of shoes people wore in Tokyo or what employment was like for Black people in Durban or how often people in Buenos Aires went to see movies or how much tea cost in Teheran. Some of it is there, which makes the digressions into narrative political history all the more frustrating, but not nearly enough.


Current and Future Reading

Back to slogging slowly through The Steel Remains, and I've heard good things about Up Against It, by MJ Locke, or possibly the next Flashman book. (I think i'm up to 4.)
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New kindle - or possible those harsh few kindle-less days - seem to have snapped me out of my 3 months long reading rut. Seriously, I'm incredibly happy. Kind of giddy, even. It's like a piece of my brain has been put back.

Recently finished:

I finished Anna Reid's Leningrad, about the WW2 siege. It's not the world's best organized book, and there was probably a bit of room for more of a blow-by-blow historical narrative, but that all completely pales next to the human story she weaves. It's absolutely, horrifyingly, riveting. There's a lot of diaries, memoirs, conversations, interviews, reports, recollections and so on available, and this vast tapestry of an entire city - a complicated, educated, cultured, terribly literary city - just being stripped completely of every basic human need, food and shelter and warmth, and how they coped and held on or didn't hold on. All those ways they managed to preserve humanity, and all the ways they lost it. The first hand accounts of what it looks like and feels like to starve to death, and in a few cases, the process of not quite starving to death and climbing back to life after that. I couldn't turn away.

Daniel Abraham's Tyrant's Law was last week, I just have nothing to say about it. It's very...competent.

Also, Margaret Macmillan's Paris, 1919, about the Versailles peace treaty. I thought it was a little too broad, if anything, with a lot about what was going on the world over and a bit less about the moment of the conference itself. (Not that it wasn't interesting, of course - I didn't know about D'Annunzio's occupation of Fiume, or that there were 100k Chinese workers in the trenches of the Western front.) There was, of course, a great deal about the conference, just that it was all very focused on the big players and the big issues, whereas I found myself more interested in the weird stuff going on about the sidelines, all those small delegations with quixotic dreams. It just seems like that kind of information is ultimately more telling about the logic of that moment in time than understanding this or that long-irrelevant piece of specific political wrangling that led to this or that decision.

And a re-read of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, which I was inspired to go re-read because of watching the Big Bang Theory. Seriously. For some reason, some corner of my brain saw a connection, and I had it on a tentative re-read list for a while anyway. (My brain may be onto something, not sure.) Anyway, I still love it. I read it way back in the army, in translation, on some really lonely little base on the Egyptian border, and i've always wondered if I loved it so much just because it perfectly suited my mood and all that English rain and green hills were unbearably exotic just then.

But no, it's just brilliant, and i'm amazed it's so short. There's so much packed into the tone and the language. All that heartbreaking loneliness and disappointment, hiding behind the pomposity and clinging to a mask of what he calls dignity so hard its embarassing just to read about. These people that reader can see are acting like fools, but can't for the life of it see it themselves. Standing around in rooms and not noticing, or pretending very hard they're not noticing, that they're sad just now, or happy just now, or even falling in love just now.


Currently reading:

Frankenstein, I finally feel like i'm beginning to get a bit of a handle on it as a story, rather than as a historical artifact.

Around India in 80 Trains, by Monisha Rajesh. Not a terrible interesting travel book, about, well, what it says on the tin. I would like this books a lot more if she talked more about trains. It's like she thinks they're just the way to get to a place or something!
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Broadchurch - British small town murder mystery/character study thing is just freaking beautiful. Read more... )


Also, it turns out Entourage has a season 8. Huh. Watched it, it's...ok? Kinda stale and weirdly cute? Read more... )

I seem to have gotten out of my reading slump a bit - i've just about finished a collection of Niel Degrasse Tyson's essays and i've got a Brief History of Time and Impossible Science out of the library and i'm looking forward to digging in over the weekend. It's the first time in weeks I feel like reading something rather than just going through the motions, thank god. I'm still not in the mood for fiction, but hopefully there's an end in sight to that.
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I like the idea of memes, I just never do 'em. I feel self conscious. But i've been on a bad stretch the past months or so with reading, so at least i'll talk about it.

Currently:

I just started "The Taste of War" by Lizzie Collingham, which appears to be a fairly broad look at the role of food in WW2. I'm enjoying it so far. I've always been particularly interested in the daily life and logistics of the period, so this is right up my alley.

I'm a few chapters through "Late Victorian Holocausts," by Mike Davies (about the effects of climate and colonization in the 19th century.) Now, i'm broadly in Davies political camp, and i'm not opposed to polemics per se, but sometimes he kind of slides into this self aware drama, like he's giving a May Day speech on a barricade. I've heard some good May Day speeches on barricades, but, like, time and place, you know? 

I've been reading an Orwell collection - My Country Left of Right - for ages as my bus book. It's a mishmash of letters, reviews, diaries, columns, speeches, etc. I was reading it very, very slowly, but it's kind of picked up lately.

The only fiction i'm properly reading at the moment (well, i'm bogged down with Frankenstein) is Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains. It's ok, but I feel like it's been ages since i've managed to really get into a secondary world fantasy (even Abercrombies latest is sitting unread, despite how much I ended up enjoying The Heroes) and this is no exception. It's novelties - well, really only the gay main character - have worn off and nothing else is strong enough to drag me along. I'll probably finish it eventually, but I have a hard time seeing myself picking up the sequel. Morgan is really a writer I want to like more than I do, since I loved Market Forces years ago, but nothing else i've read by him since has been nearly as interesting.
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Because of the friending meme, i'm sort of hopping around a looking at a lot of people's journals, rather than just seeing posts come up on the feed. And many have intro posts that are dated 2015 or 2030 or whatever so that they stick to the top. So, what if we all vanish (like, all humans. Or less dramatically, I suppose, gradually stop using DW) and then an alien comes along and opens someones reading list way in the future and there will be just this quiet drift of intro posts, the present catching up with them. Unmoored, as it were, like lost fishing boats.

Yeah, I'm reading "The World Without Us". 

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