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Topic: What are you reading? December 2010

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Subject: What are you reading? December 2010
Date Posted: 12/4/2010 4:30 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
Posts: 723
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So here we are, in the few months between two year-long reading challenges.  What are you reading now?

Since my last post on this, I've finished my re-read of all three of Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Days of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, and Sixty Days and Counting.  They have been voted read of the month for three successive months by the hard sf group, and respected there if not always liked.  I like them quite a bit.

Besides that, I've read two new books as follows:

SATURN'S CHILDREN, by Charles Stross, 2008

After humanity goes extinct, our androids live on in lifes driven by the goals and objectives we built into them when they were our personal servants. Yes, that means automated sex, and lots of it. They do have feelings and you can identify with them, but unfortunately the sex seems like something inevitable that just happens to them.

Freya, just such a femmebot, takes an illicit courier job to escape from her subsistence life kilometers above the surface of Venus, only to find layers of intrigue throughout the Solar System. The plot and identify of the characters is pretty confusing as there are sibling replicants and transferable memory chips between individuals. Fortunately, if you can hold it all in your head, all is made clear by the end. This is not a particularly deep novel, and somehow seemed a little less creative than I've come to expect from Charles Stross. Still, I enjoyed unravelling it all by the end. 


"A Short Sharp Shock" is a 1990 novella by Kim Stanley Robinson, written before his famous Mars trilogy. It has been classified as fantasy, but I think that is really only because it is sf that is not science fiction. I classify it as wierd fiction or existential fiction along the lines of writers like China Mieville or Franz Kafka - which is surprising for a writer like KSR, known for his hardsf science fiction. In the story, a man with no memory washes up on the beach in a world where the only land is one thin strip which encircles the globe. Next to him is a woman known only in the book as The Swimmer. These archetypal figures travel along the strip of land encountering many wierd beings and having somewhat surreal experiences. The writing is recognizably KSR's, but as I mentioned, not science fiction. Enjoyed the story, comparing the landforms to my own experience with the Kettle Moraine ridge of Wisconsin, but it did feel a little too much like a literary exercise.

"The Dragon Masters" is a 1962 novella by Jack Vance, which won a 1963 Hugo. Despite first appearances, and involving dragons, this is not fantasy, but science fiction. It turns out the dragons are actually bred-for-fighting descendants of aliens who once landed on the world and failed to conquer it. There is a conflict going on between two feudal lords, when the aliens return, bringing bred-for-fighting descendants of humans captured by them. There is just too much sword and blaster hand-to-claw fighting in this novella for my sake, but it was interesting how every bit of the fantasy milieu came to be explained by science fictional concepts.

Last Edited on: 12/4/10 4:31 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/4/2010 5:28 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
Posts: 1,376
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I just finished The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, which I liked quite a bit more than The Time Machine, which I read earlier in the year. It was a pretty tense read despite the fact that through cultural osmosis I knew the entire plot -- a testament to Wells' skill. :)

Other than that I'm blasting through my remaining fantasy challenge novels; if I get through all of them I'll work on some more of the SF challenge bonus categories, probably starting with Connie Willis' holiday short story collection for the Comic SF category. (A bit of a stretch, I know, but I needed an excuse to read it while it's actually the holiday season!)

I really do need to give Kim Stanley Robinson another try one of these years; all I've read is Green Mars, which I clearly didn't give a fair shot to because (1) I had no idea it was the second book in a trilogy, and (2) I was 13. All I remember of it was being totally lost and getting the feeling that there was a lot of sex. :D

Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 12/4/2010 7:07 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
Posts: 3,849
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I just finished a 10th book by Ron Goulart, this time the collection What's Become of Screwloose? And Other Inquiries.  I also started The Wrong End of Time by John Brunner, which seems like a pretty serious dystopian/first contact story. 

Subject: December reads
Date Posted: 12/4/2010 11:25 PM ET
Member Since: 7/26/2006
Posts: 385
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I'm trying to get into The Healer's War and Julian Comstock but having a hard time of it - got waylaid by Fragment - it's a page turner.

Date Posted: 12/5/2010 5:45 PM ET
Member Since: 12/14/2005
Posts: 95
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I'm re-reading Vacuum Flowers, by Michael Swanwick. I read it about a year ago and then put it aside, not sure whether I liked it enough to keep it. The plot is a little difficult to describe because this is one of the books where Swanwick uses the plot to drive the protagonist, rather than the protagonist driving the plot. On the surface it seems like the main character does a lot of wandering through a very original, cyberpunkish world (make that solar system) but by the end you begin to see she has been subtly (and at times overtly) manipulated into playing her part at the climax. Vacuum Flowers is one of his earlier attempts at this kind of plotline, and it's not his best. I only have 40 pages to go, and I'm still not convinced that some parts of the story actually have any meaning to the story. I will probably read it yet again, just in case I missed something. He's very good at world building, so maybe I just got distracted. 

He did an excellent job of this in The Dragons of Babel, however. That one you'll want to reread simply because it's one of those stories that's even better the second time around, after you know what you've learned by the end of it.

And speaking of slogging through re-reads, I suppose I ought to read Green Mars again, too. Just so I can finally move on to Blue Mars. I only had to read Red Mars two or three times before I could wrap my mind around all the characters and plot enough to get through Green Mars. I think I'm making it sound like I enjoy this books less than I do. They're not boring or confusing, they're just so epicly EPIC. 

Date Posted: 12/6/2010 7:27 AM ET
Member Since: 1/6/2010
Posts: 60
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I'm reading Green Mars right now, and really enjoying it.  Phoenix, I'd suggest giving Red Mars a try if you only just picked up Green Mars when you were 13. 

Brad -
Date Posted: 12/6/2010 12:16 PM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
Posts: 200
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Working on the 2nd book of Dean Koontz's Frankenstein series.  The first was wonderful and the second has been been very good so far.

Subject: a lot of non-science fiction lately
Date Posted: 12/28/2010 5:24 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
Posts: 723
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In this time between challenges, I've been reading mostly mainstream literature or pure fantasy from my to-be-read shelf, that I don't expect to count in the next science fiction challenge.  The list includes...

  • The Museum of Uncondtional Surrender, by Dubravka Ugre?i?
  • Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
  • Voices, by Ursula LeGuin
  • Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
  • Tor Double #17: Divide and Rule, by L Sprague deCamp / The Sword of Rhiannon, by Leigh Brackett
  • Tor Double #36: Conjure Wife, by Fritz Leiber / Our Lady of Darkness, by Fritz Lieber

And I'm currently in the middle of The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold. (A+ on characters, tbd on concept)

By the way, after looking at the fantasy forum, I found that I have actually completed the fantasy light challenge this past year.


So, here's my review of the only one of the above that contains elements of science fiction:


"Divide and Rule", by L. Sprague de Camp, 1939, 1948
In this short novel, a shallow young noble heir, propped up in a feudal system enforced by occupying aliens, finds himself swept up in revolution. The characters are flat, and the concept poorly thought through. The main attraction is the revamping of a familiar setting (upstate New York) into an unfamiliar world. This is very much a pulp adventure story.

"The Sword of Rhiannon", by Leigh Bracket, 1953
In this short novel, an Earthman on Mars time-travels back a million years to a more primitive time where his sword channels the thoughts and will of an ancient member of an alien occupying race, allowing the Earthman to defeat half-human/half-animal intelligent species and their human allies. The plot is a real kitchen sink full of sf subgenre, but somehow the two or three main characters, stereotyped as they are, do have rudiments of development. All in all, an amazingly jam-packed 136 pages.

Subject: Kim Stanley Robinson
Date Posted: 12/28/2010 5:40 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
Posts: 723
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For those of you interested in KSR, you might also consider Antarctica.  It turns out the Science in the Capital trilogy (Forty Signs of Rain, etc.) and the Mars trilogy (Red Mars, etc.) are set in a related future history, and Antarctica serves as a bridge novel between them.  Some characters from each of these series appear, but it does stand alone as well.

The novel was heavily influenced by Robinson's 1995 stay in Antarctica as part of the National Science Foundation's Antarctice Artists and writers Program.


Brad -
Date Posted: 12/29/2010 1:21 PM ET
Member Since: 1/27/2009
Posts: 200
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Finished both the 2nd and 3rd Dean Koontz Frankenstein books.  All were solid.  I'm thinking about skipping the 4th book, since the 3rd ended well enough that I feel the 4th might just be a disapointment.

I'm "cheating" and marking the 3rd on my 2011 challenge; I figured it was within a week of the challenge starting, so close enough.  At some point I may go back and not count it, but for now it's staying as being counted.

Last Edited on: 12/29/10 3:00 PM ET - Total times edited: 2