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What SF/F novel are you reading (redux)?

(27 posts)
  • Started 2 years ago by geoffhart1962
  • Latest reply from Steve R.

  1. geoffhart1962
    Member

    This thread seems to have scrolled off into oblivion, so perhaps time to start anew.

    Just finished Max Gladstone's second book, "Two Serpents Rise", and it lives up to the high standard set by his first book. Gladstone has a gift for dropping you into a complex and fascinating world with just a few deft strokes of the pen, and once you're in, draws you along the road to the denouement with nary a detour and precious little padding. Lots of information ends up being delivered on a complex milieu, but never at the cost of infodumps. Smooth!

    "Two Serpents" is kind of like the love child of Michael Moorcock and John Grisham. Imagine, if you will, a world after the Craftsmen (powerful sorcerors) have stood toe to toe with the old gods and defeated them, replacing a world of superstition and blood sacrifice with a world of "scientific" magic, bound together by a web of powerful sorcerous contracts both among people and between humans and extradimensional horrors (demons and the like). But of course, just because (most of) the gods are dead -- except for those that have gone into hiding or been chained and used to supply mystical power for the new society -- doesn't mean they're all dead, nor does it mean their followers are willing to accept defeat.

    Into this situation comes Caleb, who straddles the two worlds: his father is one of the last Eagle Knights, defeated but not yet ready to quit and lurking in the shadows, striving to restore the old ways -- or at least protect those who cling to them. Caleb, on the other hand, stands firmly in the "modern" world. He doesn't precisely hate his father, who is striving to bring the old ways back, but resents him and doesn't quite trust him, seeing him as a relic of an older, not very nice age. Enter Mal, a woman who Caleb meets while she's doing this world's equivalent of parcours (aka "parkour" or "free running") -- but who's also a powerful Craftswoman. They're immediately struck by something special about each other, thrown together and then apart by events, and a difficult and thorny romance ensues. But both members of the couple have secrets, and things don't go quite as you'd expect. (Or perhaps they do, since all the surprises stem from well-prepared leads. But no spoilers here!)

    Gladstone writes economically, but with occasional flashes of humor and beauty. There's a ton of delicious weirdness, such as "dragonfly" taxis: you wave an arm to summon them, they carry you off, and they take a bit of your soul in payment. Buried beneath a compelling thriller plot are some interesting messages. First, and most obviously, there's the important point that if you give up one form of sacrifice, you need to carefully consider what is taking its place. Second, there's the issue of ecological sustainability, since the Craftsmen are more about economics than they are about ecology, which provides an uncomfortable parallel to our modern world. But it's all submerged beneath a great story, so it's never preachy.

    Brilliantly done, and pulled me through the book so quickly I almost regretted when it was over. But then, I have two more of his books on the way. Stay tuned!

    Posted 2 years ago #
  2. JohnWThiel
    Member

    Starting off on the new thread, I'm into FINITY by John Barnes.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  3. ThatJoshJerez
    Member

    I just started reading "Proxima" by Stephen Baxter. I have never read his work before, it's interesting so far.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  4. LukeJackson
    Member

    I'm about a third of the way through The Bangkok Asset by John Burdett, #6 in his Bangkok series, and it features some SFnal elements insofar as some CIA spooks are trying to genetically engineer psychotic supersoldiers.

    Also about two-thirds through The Naked and the Dead by Mailer, but there's not much of a case I can make that this one's SFnal in any respect.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  5. Marian
    Member

    How does Mailer hold up today? I know it was a big deal when it came out in the Fifties, but that was a different culture.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  6. JohnWThiel
    Member

    The flashbacks are called "The Time Machine" in Naked and Dead, aren't they?

    Posted 2 years ago #
  7. LukeJackson
    Member

    Yes, you are right about that, John! I'm listening to the audiobook version so had forgotten about that SFnal aspect. :)

    I personally feel that The Naked and the Dead is overwritten. Not with gaudy or difficult prose, but just by exhaustively describing details and thought processes that I feel an editor should've cut. It's very good considering it was written by a 23-year-old, I think, but when Mailer writes about it being a good bestseller in his foreword, I'm thinking a good bestseller should cut the wheat from the chaff and focus more on plot.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  8. JohnWThiel
    Member

    Well, things like "crack that whip" in the flashback on Croft could easily be omitted to the betterment of the book. As for the last sentence in the Croft flashback, "I hate everything which is not in myself", that belongs somewhere other than a war novel.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  9. JohnWThiel
    Member

    FINITY has a whole lot of abstract reasoning in it amongst the characters about the action from the multiverse. It'd be of high interest to those who ponder such things.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  10. JohnWThiel
    Member

    I've finished FINITY, and would recommend it as a book highly relevant to current SF thinking about other dimensions, other universes, alternate realities, and the like. It is much more analytical and interpretive of its topic than other books of this nature. It's by John Barnes; I seldom hear mention of his name, but he's well into science fiction, like it might be his chief interest, or one of them. And a lot of action in it too.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  11. JohnWThiel
    Member

    Also there's an artificial intelligence in it named Billy Beard. As the characters are searching for a missing United States, I think it should be pointed out that there's a HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES written by Mary and Charles Beard in the real world.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  12. JohnWThiel
    Member

    Let's get this ox moving! I'm now into BEYOND INFINITY by Greg Benford. It's written with an avant-garde motif and an oratorical style, and concerns its own super-cosmic view. I don't know yet if I'd recommend it.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  13. Dr. Caligari
    Member

    I just finished Dan Simmon's HYPERION, which I enjoyed greatly despite its literary pretensions and cliff-hanger ending.

    Question for the group: do I now go on to THE FALL OF HYPERION? Or does the quality (forgive the pun) fall off?

    Posted 2 years ago #
  14. JohnWThiel
    Member

    What's the pun? Hyper-ion? Hi, peer in? Hy per ion?

    Posted 2 years ago #
  15. geoffhart1962
    Member

    Just finished Max Gladstone's "Full Fathom Five", which lives up to the standard he's set for previous books in the series (which I believe I've reviewed here). Fascinating world, well-crafted characters, and an increasingly compelling story that pulls you through it as events unfold.

    FFF continues in the same world Gladstone's been unfolding for us during the past 2 books. If I were to summarize the pitch, think of these books as if they were written by the love-child of John Grisham and China Mieville. They combine Grisham's nitty gritty corporate malfeasance and office-politics power struggles with a sorcerous environment laden with all kinds of delicious weirdness, such as "the Penitents" (golem-like constructs in which criminals are imprisoned and "broken", as in an iron maiden, until their thoughts conform with acceptable social norms). The setting is a very alternate-universe version of Hawaii; that is, a small island nation surrounded by much bigger and more powerful neighbors.

    Our protagonists in this story are three women: First, we have a female street urchin who's a nice riff on an old archetype; here, she's desperate to flee an unpleasant society, yet feels a certain responsibility to the other street kids who have come to depend on her. Second, we have a corporate priestess (who started life as a man, and transformed herself until she's in a body that feels right to her). She has a conscience and deep loyalty to her employer, the equivalent of an offshore tax haven bank. Her job is to create and maintain "idols" that store the soul stuff of investors as investments. Third, we have the avatar of a goddess who's come to the island on a mission of espionage. Initially from very different worlds, the three are brought together plausibly by circumstances to defeat a plot I won't go into in any depth for fear of spoilers.

    The central conceit of this story hinges on the evolution of a kind of artificial intelligence from amidst the sorcerous reservoirs of power that "craftsmen" and priests can create, much the way one might in our own society craft a tale of artificial intelligence appearing as a kind of emergent property from the increasingly complex software that we've created. The parallels are fascinating and well explored.

    One step further back is the larger metaphor that underlies Gladstone's fictional society, namely that money (an artificial construct largely divorced from underlying value) is conveyed by earning, buying, selling, or trading bits of soul-stuff. Although never explicitly foregrounded, this literalizes the intriguing question of how much of your soul you're prepared to sacrifice or trade for money and all the things you can buy with it. It's a textbook example of creating deep and murky waters to beguile the reader without ever pointing at them and shouting "look, look, a metaphor!"

    The writing is efficient and occasionally very funny, though less well copyedited than the previous books in the series. But if you enjoyed the previous books, you'll enjoy this one too.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  16. JohnWThiel
    Member

    Still waiting for Caligari to reveal the secret of his pun. Perhaps it was such a groaner that his post with the reply was taken off by board manipulators in a state of angst. I'll await the Dr.'s reply after he gets his things in order.

    In Greg Benford's BEYOND INFINITY there's a character named Fanak. I wondered if he was going to be Tuckerizing his novel, and a few further indications showed that he might have at least been trying to do so---quandary was used rather spontaneously and savannah not so long after that.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  17. geoffhart1962
    Member

    Not reading these yet, but definitely would... Over on John Scalzi's blog, I've suggested a couple timely tragicomic novels to follow up on his "Redshirts":

    "Red States", in which Trump wins the election, the world panics, and much wackiness ensues. This one pretty much writes itself.

    "Redshifts", in which the Republican party collapses into a singularity under its own density, creating an SFnal equivalent to the "Left Behind" stories.

    Having just watched "Dogma" last night (great movie!), I'm tempted to propose "Redshits", in which the movie's fecal demon is summoned by current political events, but it seemed tasteless. Naw... gotta go add that to the list...

    I hereby relinquish all intellectual property rights to these titles. Go forth and write them!

    Posted 2 years ago #
  18. MattHughes
    Member

    I recently reread Alas, Babylon, a classic after-the-bomb novel from the late 1950s. I hadn't read it since the early 1960s.

    I thought it held up pretty well, but it was more interesting as a time-traveling experience back to my youth, when most of us fully expected to die in a nuclear holocaust -- and actually came close in October, 1962.

    People who disparage the baby boomers should remember that we spent our formative years knowing that the air raid sirens could go off at any moment, and once they did we would have only minutes to live. Duck and cover, my ass.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  19. Ron
    Member

    'Not reading these yet, but definitely would... Over on John Scalzi's blog, I've suggested a couple timely tragicomic novels to follow up on his "Redshirts"...'

    Unlikely. It looks like Scalzi will continue his imitation of previous science fiction writers:

    OLD MAN'S WAR ---- Heinlein imitation
    LITTLE FUZZY ---- H. Bean Piper imitation
    RED SHIRTS ---- Star Trek lite

    His upcoming novel, THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE, appears to imitate Asimov's FOUNDATION
    https://www.amazon.com/Collapsing-Empire-John-Scalzi-ebook/dp/B01F20E7CO

    Posted 2 years ago #
  20. JohnWThiel
    Member

    I've got Scalzi's THE END OF ALL THINGS, which I'll be reading after I've finished Greg Benford's BEYOND INFINITY, I suppose.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  21. geoffhart1962
    Member

    Ron, in fairness to Scalzi, I think he's done a bunch of stuff that builds on previous work rather than slavishly imitating it.

    "Old Man's War" isn't mere imitation Heinlein any more than Haldeman's "Forever War" is; both deal with different issues.

    Haven't read "Little Fuzzy", so can't comment.

    "Red Shirts" isn't Trek lite; it's a mostly very funny satire thereof.

    I'd agree with you that Scalzi writes a lot like Heinlein, but I consider this a good thing. Is he striking out in bold new directions like (say) China Mieville? Perhaps not. I've still enjoyed everything Scalzi that I've read, and will continue reading his new stuff. YMMV.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  22. geoffhart1962
    Member

    Just finished Charles Stross' "The Nightmare Stacks", the most recent installment in his Laundry series. If you're not familiar with the series, which began with the short story "A Colder War" and the novel "The Atrocity Archives", here's the basic notion: What if Lovecraft was not merely a storyteller, but rather was describing the true horrific nature of reality? What if mathematics could summon the Lovecraftian pantheon or their miscellaneous nasty hangers-on? What if the Cold War-era superpowers both attempted to weaponize the technology and tried to find ways to ensure human survival in a very cold and uncaring universe, while strangling its greater and lesser heroes in bureaucratic red tape?

    Bob Howard, our protagonist from the early books of the series remains away on a mission, and his wife (Maureen) is off on sick leave after going through a fairly nasty time in the previous book. Into those very big shoes steps Alex, one of the inadvertent villains from a previous book, in which a group of day traders in London's financial district become vampires when they create some code they really shouldn't have created and it alters them, mind and body, forever. They don't all handle their new powers well, though Alex tries. I call him an "inadvertent" villain because at his heart, he's a decent sort, and indeed, when we meet him again in the present book, he's many months into his training as a member of the Laundry.

    In this book, the existential threat to humanity's existence comes from an invasion of dark elves: invert everything you might like about Tolkein's nice elves, crossbreed the resulting nasties with the Drow from Dungeons and Dragons, and throw in a bit of Nazi superior-race mentality that treats humans as less than slaves, and you'll get the idea. Their world has been destroyed by a Lovecraftian apocalypse, and the few survivors desperately need a new home before they die out as a race. Unfortunately for us, it's our world, and a drastically underprepared Laundry and badly overmatched British emergency-response structure must stop them. Fortunately, they've got Alex as their ace in the hole and he proves to be up to the challenge.

    In the first half of the book, Stross gracefully maneuvers all his players into place atop a steep slope, and once he's done, kicks the chocks out from under their wheels and pushes them downhill so they can collide at the bottom. The last half of the book becomes a fast-paced moving disaster of what's been called "military porn": cool technology and magic clashing on the battlefield, with a large and growing body count and a few heroes desperately trying to keep things from getting worse. (Think David Weber and you'll get the idea.) It's an excellent example of the genre. I won't spoil the ending, but it's satisfying and leaves a ton of collateral damage to be repaired and consequences to be coped with in future installments of the series.

    If you've enjoyed previous books, you'll enjoy "Stacks" too. Alex is a pretty good stand-in for Bob -- though perhaps a little too close to Bob to fully emerge as his own character. I'm not sure I buy how quickly he rises to heroism, but that doesn't detract in any way from the pleasures of the story. I found there were many more rough edges and bits of stuffing showing between the seams than in previous books, but never anything that threw me out of the story.

    Recommended for anyone who considers Lovecraftian heroes to be comfort food for the tortured soul. *G*

    Posted 2 years ago #
  23. JohnWThiel
    Member

    "The End of All Things" has people in it who are so bad that it's the reason for its being the end of all things. Humans have never been worse, and the aliens are unbelievable.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  24. Dr. Caligari
    Member

    Testing.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  25. Dr. Caligari
    Member

    For some period of time, I couldn't post to this thread (I would post comments, but no one could see them but me), so I was never able to answer John Thiel's question to me: the pun I was making was whether the quality of The FALL of Hyperion FALLS off from the first novel in the series.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  26. JohnWThiel
    Member

    It was there in front of me, by Jum.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  27. Steve R.
    Member

    Just finished reading "Provenance" by Ann Leckie. A pleasant read. The characters where likable. The plot moved quickly. However, the conclusion fizzled since it was unimaginative.

    This thread is the third (3rd) evolutionary progression of "What Sf/F Novel Are You Reading ...".

    Posted 1 month ago #

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