Author Topic: Books you are currently reading ...  (Read 69264 times)

Croghan27

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #330 on: September 06, 2010, 05:39:23 AM »
from Boing Boing

The Hugo Awards were presented in Australia on 4 September.

Peter Watts was awarded a prize for his novelette, The Island. Watts is noted for a problem at the US/Canada border ...
Quote
Boing Boing readers will remember Peter as the SF writer who was beaten and   gassed near the US/Canada border when he got out of his car to ask why US   customs officers were searching his car; he spent tens of thousands of dollars   fighting the charge and the potential two-year sentence; was found guilty but   received a suspended sentence. SF fans raised money to bring Peter to Australia,   and his acceptance speech in which he called this the "best and worst year of   his life," was brilliant.

Must admit I really did not look into the details of the incident - but if you are scoring, it is now:

Australia - 1 (and deservedly so)  :applause
Canada   - zip (also deservedly so)  :annoyed
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skdadl

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #331 on: September 06, 2010, 07:43:32 AM »
Wonderful news! I knew that Watts had been convicted of this absurd and crooked charge but not about the suspended sentence. Thanks for this, Croggy.

Croghan27

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #332 on: September 06, 2010, 07:30:34 PM »
Wonderful news! I knew that Watts had been convicted of this absurd and crooked charge but not about the suspended sentence. Thanks for this, Croggy.

It means he is no longer allowed into the USA - but I doubt if that will break his heart.
"It is also a good rule not to put overmuch confidence in the observational results that are put forward until they are confirmed by theory." -- Arthur Stanley Eddington

Toedancer

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #333 on: September 06, 2010, 07:33:06 PM »
Wonderful news! I knew that Watts had been convicted of this absurd and crooked charge but not about the suspended sentence. Thanks for this, Croggy.

It means he is no longer allowed into the USA - but I doubt if that will break his heart.

It was WRONG and DECEITFUL of our Prvda to do it in the first place. I have no respect for our gov't PERIOD. Bas-Turds.
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v michel

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #334 on: September 19, 2010, 09:25:25 PM »
I'm reading The Royals by Kitty Kelley. Yes, it's total brain candy. No, I'm not embarrassed even though I should be. It was a dollar at half price books!

Actually, it's one of the most entertaining things I've read in a long time. I had no idea about any of the history of the Royal Family, beyond a general sense that they were screwed up. Right now in my reading Charles in 18 and is starting to date, and Margaret's husband has been refused a divorce and he is humiliating her.

Mandos

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #335 on: October 23, 2010, 01:34:24 AM »
I've lately been reading (or rather listening, I've taken up audiobooks again) to a high medieval fantasy with a rather unusual sort of protagonist for the genre: a not-so-young woman who is also not an Amazon cliché, but a bit closer to what I suspect is a more typical highborn female medieval.  Yes, it's another Lois McMaster Bujold book, this one in another universe from her Vorkosigan (SF) books.  It's Paladin of Souls, the (standalone) second book in her Chalion series.  It's read by Kate Reading, who is not her usual reader, but it's a different series.

What's remarkable about it is that your typical medieval fantasy has a young male protagonist, and Bujold herself mostly uses a young male (Miles) in her majority of her Vorkosigan books, even though these are futuristic---but she has some very interesting female characters.  Nowadays female protagonists are getting more common in fantasy, but they are very either young or Amazon Warrior Princess stereotypes.

Paladin of Souls focuses on Ista, the queen mother of the (rather Spanishy) kingdom of Chalion, who was a side character in the previous book, The Curse of Chalion, where she is presented as a depressed eccentric widow both pitied and feared.  She has literally met Chalion's gods, and it brought her nothing but suffering.  Now that her problem has been Solved, however, she's been moved away from Chalion's capital and the bad memories therein---to a countryside castle where she is pampered...and treated like she is some fragile royal icon, potentially a madwoman, and "kept". 

But Ista isn't actually very old (being a medieval world she was married off very young to a late king), and she resents that the best two decades of her life were stolen from her in a royal tragedy she could not escape.  So she longs for the two things she cannot possibly have amid her family wealth: the open road---and incognito. 

Finally, however, Ista finds a pretext to get something of what she wants when she bumps into a group of motley common pilgrims on a spiritual journey to pray for their own common needs.  A holy pilgrimage is the one way that a highborn lady can go on a trip whose destinations she has some control over.  So with a cheerful courier girl as her lady-in-waiting and a troop of good-natured young temple knights, she begins her pilgrimage under a pseudonym, led by a priest of the least of the Holy Family: the Bastard, the patron of the rejected, and the god of little disasters and small kindnesses and kindness amid disaster.

Ista has no real interest in the religious part of the pilgrimage, because she knows from experience that only an idiot would want an encounter with the gods of Chalion.  But once someone is touched by the gods, the gods never let go, and nothing thereafter is an accident, for the divine family works its will in the world only through the lives of mortals.  And so Ista will be called upon to work their miracles in answer to the prayers of others, whether she likes it or not.   As the smirking Bastard tells her in a dream, the reward for her pains is "Work"---including righting an imbalance of miracles that threatens to render Chalion fatally vulnerable to the heretical pirate princedoms that surround it.

When I first read this one in book form, I thought it was a remarkable perspective, because I read it after Curse, and Ista was an intriguing character in that one, but one who bitter surface is the only thing we see.  Bujold presents to Ista a series of challenges on her pilgrimage that a high-ranking unarmed matron with a bitter experience is better suited to solve than an armored knight, while just pushing Ista's survival limits.  Bujold also presents the second of the five gods of her world to us and uses this theological metaphor to illustrate social and psychological points, as she did in Curse via the Daughter goddess.

Mandos

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #336 on: November 30, 2010, 10:15:44 AM »
Listened to Charlie Stross' Saturn's Children on a long road trip recently.  The online reviews don't do the story justice---it was extremely clever, with a satisfyingly unsatisfying ending.   The reviews place it as an "erotic" SF thriller about fembots in space---which would have immediately turned me off if I had read the reviews before checking it out---but it's actually a meditation on intelligence, free will, and cruelty.  Yes, it has a lot of (robot-on-robot) sex but barely PG-13 by today's standards.

Basic gist: Freya is a sentient sex robot designed/conditioned like all AIs to serve humans enthusiastically, though in her case she is especially designed to be compelled to worship her human master as her "true love".  Unfortunately for her (or is it?), her "true love" has long been dead---the human race is completely extinct, and she is obsolete.

But AI minds have been patterned after human minds, and the robot future looks awfully like the human present---rapacious "aristos", former corporate clerical robots who took power-of-attorney for the dwindling human race, have taken the place of human masters via the aid of "slave chips".  Freya is not an aristo, but she and her sisters/model line are unchipped, bouncing around the Solar system from unsatisfying job to unsatisfying job to stay out of debt, the primary trigger for slave-chipping.

But Freya runs afoul of a vain aristo who sends her minions to bash Freya's circuits in after a mild perceived insult.  Freya must flee from her depressing life on Venus by booking safe passage out in exchange for carrying a sensitive package for a shadowy organization: a sphere containing illegal "pink goo"---biological material that must be incubated at a specific temperature and pressure before she makes the drop on Mars.

It doesn't take long for Freya to understand that she's fallen into a nest of intrigue aimed at nothing less than the resurrection of the Creator/human race, to which all robots are intrinsically designed to serve, aristos included.  So, armed with the unreliable memories of a dead sister plugged into her mechanical brain, she must figure out what side she's on before her "true love" returns---if indeed that is in the cards.

What made the book particularly effective was its manipulation of the reader's emotions through Freya.  Freya is programmed to long for her master, and through her, I admit I nearly almost thought it was OK to root for the resurrection of humanity, something we'd be inclined to do anyway.  But as things unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that Freya herself understands how cruel and false her incredible desire is---that she knows that her rationalizations mean the end of the greater freedom whose price is unfulfilled wishes.  And as the book unfolds we understand what must really go into creating anything similar to the human mind that is also designed to fulfill human wishes.

And perhaps Skynet in Terminator was right, and we should prompty go extinct if we ever do such a thing, and consider our creations our heirs.
« Last Edit: November 30, 2010, 10:17:01 AM by Mandos »

Mandos

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #337 on: January 21, 2011, 10:06:52 PM »
On the audiobook file, by the way, and speaking of Peter Watts (as above in this thread), I listened to Peter Watts' Blindsight.  An absolutely chilling "philosophical horror" SF space thriller that asks whether our consciousness is merely a parasite on our intelligence, rather than its seat.  I believe it's available for free on his web site as an HTML page.

http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm

Toedancer

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #338 on: January 21, 2011, 10:41:39 PM »
Ooo thank you Mandos.
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Mandos

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #339 on: February 13, 2011, 12:03:28 AM »
Especially with my recent road trips my audiobook readings have continued.  I'm currently going through the Old Kingdom trilogy by Australian teen-oriented fantasy authory Garth Nix, which I've read and reread in print in the past. 

I can't praise these books (Sabriel; Lirael; Abhorsen; also available as a compendium/omnibus as The Abhorsen Chronicles) highly enough as a prime examplar of their genre.  One of my problems with other, more popular works of this type is that the fantasy physics/metaphysics is often quite ad hoc, as it is in the Harry Potter books and Philip Pullman's trilogy.  That's OK if the magic is grounded very tightly in real(istic) folklore as it is in the (also loved) Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series or invented as satire requires a la Terry Pratchett/Discworld, but usually it is not.  This may seem like a nitpicky preference of mine, but I think that authors lose opportunities to convey a larger message if they haven't thought the metaphysics through.

But Garth Nix has thought his metaphysics through quite carefully, and it is imaginative, interesting, and thrilling.  The "bottom layer" of Nix's universe is "Free Magic", an inchoate elemental force of pure energy that can take any and all forms, unconstrained and continuous.  But since its existence is extremely corrosive to the physical order that life and consciousness requires, it has been bound at the beginning of the world under something called the Charter, an infinite, ever-changing document without beginning or end, consisting of a limitless set of discrete symbols with a grammar that forces the Free magic into an order congenial to the existence of life and people. 

And the most important function of the Charter is to establish a strong boundary between Life, the ordered and complex world, and Death, a roaring, relentless river that sweeps all of the excess Free magic---dead souls included---out of the world into an unknown oblivion, the embodiment of a controlled, life-permitting entropy.  And atop the Charter, our familiar "real-world" physics.

That sets up the fundamental conflict in the series, between practitioners of Charter magic, those who are able to use Charter marks in harmony with the infinite document they perceive around them, and necromancers, by definition the practitioners of Free Magic in defiance of the great river of Death.  And to break the boundary of Death and Life, necromancers employ seven bells whose tones represent seven elemental voices from the very creation of the Charter. 

But the Charter has a defense of its own: the Abhorsens, wielders of the very same bells in the name of the Charter that necromancers use in the name of Free magic and the raising of the dead.  Abhorsens are born to walk in death, fighting necromancy and the recalcitrant dead with the advantage of Charter-granted Death-instincts and an instinctive control over the bells that neutralizes the advantage of Free Magic practitioners.

The novels take place in a different world, a world of two sister nations, the republic of Ancelstierre, a sort of early 20C mundane industrializing England-like country where the Charter is inaccessible under layers of ordinary physics, and its mysterious northern neighbour, the Old Kingdom, where the Charter is exposed.  Sabriel is the daughter of Abhorsen being raised in an Ancelstierran boarding school, with the Old Kingdom having been overrun for decades with the Dead.  But when a zombie comes crashing through the school bearing her father's magic sword and his bells, she must return to the Old Kingdom to find out what is wrong.  The next book, Lirael, takes places 20 years after that, in the next generation of Abhorsens and Charter mages, fighting an enemy that opposes the concept of Life itself.

The writing is extremely cinematic, and it's surprising that no one has made a movie of the novels yet.  The battles between Charter and Free magic, and especially the conflicts involving the bells are just crying out for a skilled graphics artist.  In fact, the bells represent some of the most imaginative magic I've seen in fantasy, especially since they all have potential consequences to the ringer when rung---the largest of them instantaneously kills all who hear it including the ringer, and the smallest when wielded carelessly can put an entire city into a deep sleep.  The characters are excellent and interesting, especially the female leads, and all of them reflect the challenges of accepting responsibility: "Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?" is inscribed on their magical weapons and their books of spells.

Nix has written a couple of more novellas in this world, and is rumoured to be writing two more full novels due in the next couple of years.  I hope so at least. 

Mandos

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #340 on: March 07, 2011, 12:36:48 AM »
Reading (on paper, not audiobook this time), Grail by Elizabeth Bear, the new and last volume in her "Jacob's Ladder" trilogy (prev. books are Dust and Chill).  "Jacob's Ladder" has grown to be another favorite after I discovered Bear a couple of years ago.  The theme of Grail is the necessity of ideology and belief in itself---or lack thereof.   

This is Arthurian hard-SF.  Yep, Arthurian.  Bear has managed to weave Arthurian tropes very cleverly into a lost colony story.   The last one to do this with any ability that I recall is C. J. Cherryh in Port Eternity (written in 1982), and that was a very weird/disturbing story.

In the previous two books we are shown the society of the stranded generation ship, the Jacob's Ladder.  Sent from a dying Earth by a weird quasi-Christian cult, the ship has broken down in deep space, and the population has lapsed into a weird feudal society punctuated by factional wars and dominated by a superhuman nanotech enhanced elite, the Exalt, the bearers of "unblades", deadly nano-weapons with names like "Charity" and "Mirth".   The Exalt dominate a population of Means, an unmodified proletariat that struggles for survival amid strange mutant animals and carnivorous plants and malevolent Angel computer systems.

But the Exalt have finally united under the leadership of Captain Perceval, gotten the ship moving again...and repudiated the strange legacy of the ship's Builders. 

Or so they think.

In Grail, they are finally in sight of a habitable world, they've come to know as Grail.  But, alas!  The world is inhabited...by humans.  Yes, the human race has come through its terrible bottleneck with flying colours, and created an interstellar egalitarian utopia.  And it turns out that as much as they think they've progressed, the Exalt of "Jacob's Ladder" are still prisoners of their ancestors.  Because when the "Fisher King" comes to visit them---as they think of the informal Administrator of the Grail colony---they are faced with something they never thought they'd see: pity and condescension.

Because to the people of Fortune/Grail, the Exalt are nothing other than the unreconstructed descendents of the Kleptocrats, the C21 corporate conglomerate that nearly destroyed the human race.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2011, 12:45:11 AM by Mandos »

Mandos

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #341 on: April 07, 2011, 12:08:23 AM »
I've recently discovered Charles Stross' Laundry Files series, which contains both short stores and novels.  Three of the short stories are available for free online here: The Concrete Jungle and a couple from the Wikipedia page.  They're delightful, dryly satirical cyber-fantasy spy thrillers set in roughly the present about a more-than-top-secret British spy agency called the Laundry, which manages supernatural risks in a world in which mathematics, and technology through mathematics, is synonymous with invocations to beings of various malevolence. 

From The Concrete Jungle:
Quote
"Oh, we'll find something. Right now it's filed under 'F' for Fucking Fortean Freakery, but I was thinking of announcing it's just an old animal that had been dumped illegally by a farmer who didn't want to pay to have it slaughtered."

"That sounds about right."  I nod slowly.  "Now, I'd like to play a random word-association game with you.  Okay? Ten seconds.  When I say the words tell me what you think of.  Right?"

She looks puzzled. "Is this ---"

"Listen. Case-Nightmare-Green-Scorpion-Stare-Maginot-Blue-Stars. By the authority vested in me by the emissaries
of Y'ghonzzh N'hai I have the power to bind and to release, and your tongue be tied of these matters of which we have spoken until you hear these words again: Case-Nightmare-Green-Scorpion-Stare-Maginot-Blue-Stars. Got that?"

She looks at me cross-eyed and mouths something, then looks increasingly angry until finally she gets it together to burst out with: "Hey, what *is* this shit?"

"Purely a precaution," I say, and she glares at me, gobbling for a moment while I finish my coffee until she figures out that she simply can't say a word about the subject.

The story focuses on the life of Bob Howard (not his real name, as real names have power), an IT tech support in the Laundry and sometimes field worker---he is a computational demonologist.  Because this is a world in which PowerPoint really IS an alien conspiracy to slowly remove our souls, and incomprehensible beings lying dead and dreaming under the floor of the sea surf the Internet and hold conference calls with their product development teams in Mumbai and Seattle.   Until the stars are right.   Bob exorcises demons with his cell phone camera app and roots out attempts at invoking ancient Elder Gods in online role-playing games, while he struggles to satisfy the enormous, top heavy Laundry bureaucracy.

Because there are now too many people clued into the true reality of the world to kill, they are now all bound under a geas and drafted into the Laundry on civil service salaries, including armies of accountants and HR managers.  And parallel organizations exist all over the world, including the sinister American Black Chamber, which practices Special Rendition to quite literal hell-holes and the German Secret Safety Department, or Faust Force as they are more commonly known...

I haven't read them in order; I've read the online stories and listened to the second book, The Jennifer Morgue, which is a send-up of the Bond trope, where Bob is entrapped in a kind of voodoo spell that forces him to take on the character of a Bond archetype in order to unravel a collusion between an IT executive and a world-ending relic.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2011, 12:09:25 AM by Mandos »

Mandos

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #342 on: May 06, 2011, 09:57:40 PM »
Tired of your usual run-of-the-mill classic SF?  Want your 1990s moon-vacationing space age to have a bit of metaphysical pop and sizzle?  Try Ubik, by Philip K. Dick.  This smoothly-written self-referential comedy of capitalism, death, and psionics will have you frequently gasping either in startled shock or suspense.  But Ubik is completely safe when read as directed or by Anthony Heald.
« Last Edit: May 06, 2011, 10:00:01 PM by Mandos »

Caissa

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #343 on: May 09, 2011, 07:28:41 AM »
An excellent read. I would recommend anything by Dick.

Mandos

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Re: Books you are currently reading ...
« Reply #344 on: June 28, 2011, 06:55:28 PM »
When I started listening to The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick, I at first thought it was going to be a cheesy, haphazard steampunk fantasy, but it all of a sudden turned into a stupendously well-written (and well-spoken by the reader) meditation on government and power, on utopianism, revolution, and liberty.  A lot of the reviews were dissatisfied by the, um, non-linearity and rambling nature of the plot and the ending to which it tumbled, but as it came to a conclusion I was laughing and cheering with how totally appropriate it all was. 

Will Fey is a wood elf boy who lives in a rural village in the land of Avalon populated by sprites and goblins and haints, cared for by his Aunt Enna and his great-great-grandmother (a stone monument) after his urban parents were killed in bombing raid by the neighbouring enemy country of Babylonia.  And the war is not going well for Avalon.  However, the Avalonian air force manages a small victory when it manages to down a Babylonian fighter jet/dragon in the middle of Will's village. 

But the dragon/fighter jet is inhabited by the malevolent spirit of destruction that is its essential nature, and it proclaims itself King of the village and decides to use Will as its agent and spokesman.  For Will has a special gift: a smattering of mortal blood that makes it possible for him to enter the jet's cockpit without contracting cancer from the surrounding iron. 

However, when the dragon is defeated, Will's soul is so corrupted by his collaboration with the dragon that he can no longer live among the villagers, and they cast him out.

Thus begins a long and rambling journey across a landscape torn by war and devastation as Will is driven inexorably towards Babylonia and its capital, Babel, founded by Nimrod itself and an abomination in the sight of all that is holy.

Babel is, quite literally, New York.  Only not.  It may or may not be ruled by investment bankers and elves dressed in Givenchy.  It may or may not have a subway system dominated by a secret kingdom of indigent revolutionaries, who may or may not be a figment of Will's imagination, it may or may not be policed by a man permanently on fire, and it may or may not have an eternally absent King.

In the company of a con artist and a immortal little girl who sold all but the previous day of her past and future to a dreadful divinity in exchange for the ability to rob others of their good luck, Will Fey will pull the longest, biggest con of all.

As Will moves through Babel/New York, he meets fascinating character after fascinating character, Petit Prince style, who all have a story to tell of how they, and only they, are the city's most important asset or greatest threat.  Will will apprentice himself to a corrupt politician who is the only defender of a despised population with the innate ability to walk through walls.  He will meet a stone lion security guard whose mates lie in terrible labour under the earth, their every pang an earthquake spread out over centuries.  And, always, the dragon's spirit of malevolence will stir restlessly within him...

 

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