Author Topic: What are you reading?  (Read 54084 times)

Jubal

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #180 on: September 06, 2020, 06:19:34 PM »
A books update again!



I spent most of August reading The Outlaws of the Marsh/Water Margin, which was an experience to say the least - over 2000 pages across four volumes, detailing the bringing together and eventually splintering apart of a band of outlaws. This being classic Chinese literature, there are 108 outlaw chieftains, and you don't get a run through of them until 2/3 of the way through the piece: it does get fairly impossible to keep track of all of them, but that by and large doesn't matter. Most of the story is very pulp-fantasy in style, consisting of an intricate interwoven web of combats, thefts, intrigues, imprisonments, and suchlike as a variety of corrupt officials force the protagonists, in various ways, to abandon their previous lives, until a showdown with the government ensues and thereafter the employment of the outlaws as military shock forces starts to whittle the band's numbers down again. The primary themes of the book are about resistance to corrupt authority, though largely in a backward-looking way: the lead protagonists generally want to restore good advisers and governance to the Emperor, with one or two exceptions.

The characters are a full suite of fantasy archetypes, and come from all walks of life, a sharp contrast to western texts where the heroes are typically all of noble birth. They also all have fantastic epithets/nicknames as part of the "gallant fraternity", by which they often identify one another. Song Jiang, The Timely Rain, the most important character in the book, is a county clerk: he is not an especially notable warrior, or strategist, but nonetheless becomes the at times unwilling figurehead of the outlaws, and his generosity of spirit (to his fellow gallants and very much not to others, see below) keeps the group together. The 108 include among others Gongsun Sheng "Dragon in the Clouds", a Taoist monk who can control the weather; Flea on a Drum, the group's thief; Dai Zong the Marvellous Traveller, who has a special way of wrapping written prayers around his legs to let him walk at many times the speed of other men; Li Kui the Black Whirlwind, who is a full-on D&D style barbarian who often massacres enemies and bystanders alike in fits of rage and is the buffoon who often ruins plans; and Sagacious Lu, a former army official who became a Buddhist monk to escape the police then got thrown out of the monastery for being drunk and disorderly. Monsters are rare, except the occasional big tiger, but magicians of various sorts certainly appear.

The moral viewpoints in the story are very alien to me as a reader, which takes the edge off some of the reading enjoyment for it. Violence against women is common, graphic in nature, and feels gratuitous at times: one of the most common reasons for outlaw leaders to end up on the mountain is having murdered a spouse or concubine who betrayed, cheated on or blackmailed them in some way, and these killings are often shown very much as on-the-page events and seemingly approved of. This includes the main lead character, Song Jiang, which can make him an awkward protagonist. The view overall of women is quite negative, though complex: women as warriors (like the wonderfully nicknamed Ten Feet of Steel) or powerful political players are an assumed part of the writer's setting, so women in some ways get a bit more agency than in contemporary European writing, though also a more negative overall presentation.

The rest of the moral universe similarly strikes odd notes: suicide is common, seemingly often used to get people out of the way of the plot, and not in most cases a source of obvious character change or development for those left behind. Meanwhile some of the outlaws do outright standardly villainous acts: a couple of tavernkeepers who routinely cook guests and serve them a la Sweeney Todd are among the protagonists. Perhaps a way to square this circle lies in the mystical overview in the text, in which there are a number of supernatural events that mark Song Jiang and his band out as heavenly, but perhaps in the sense of a vengeful rather than benevolent heaven: they are scourges of villainy, their own evils balanced against the rapacious bureaucrats and officials they oppose.




Meanwhile, in the last few days, I read Jeannette Ng's Under the Pendulum Sun, which is... creepy as hell and with more messed up family vibes than a game of Crusader Kings gone wrong, but also very very good if you like gothic fantasy-horror. It's a step more into gothic victoriana than, say, Lud-in-the-mist, but it has a strong sense of the fae and faerie which manages to reimbue it with some of the upside-down madness and mystique that it sometimes lacks in more conventional fantasy. I don't think it's going to shoot into my favourite books list but that's mostly because its sort of claustrophobic creepsome vibe gets to me a bit too strongly: I certainly will read another one as and when it appears, nonetheless, which I think is a good mark to hit for a book that's outside my comfort-reading zone. I don't think I can write much much more without spoling bits of plot as it's very intricately woven and reliant on its sense of mysteries, but I'd recommend it all the same.
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Jubal

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #181 on: November 11, 2021, 10:35:50 PM »
Well, it's been a long year-and-a-bit since I last posted here, and I've read horribly little in that time - but I'm finally creeping back into things a bit. I recently finished A Time of Marvels, a book of central European folk tales which was quite fun, and then this week I've read through S.A. Chakraborty's Daevabad trilogy, which I enjoyed a lot and can really very much recommend: good solid fantasy with a lot of djinn (who, indeed, the book is mostly about) and a much more Middle-eastern centred mythos than most fantasy literature tends to have.
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Pentagathus

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #182 on: November 13, 2021, 06:55:55 PM »
I've been reading (well listening to audiobooks but shush) Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy on and off for the last few weeks now. Very enjoyable despite having a lot of the traditional fantasy tropes, it has a lot of creepy scenes that feel they could come from a horror style story but it manages to avoid being grimdark. Characters are good too, seems like everyone has some kind of development. Perhaps a little slow to start with but I didn't mind.
It was interesting to see just how much inspiration George Martin took from this series, especially considering that (IIRC) he started writing GoT around the time this series was newly released. At some points it feels like it goes from inspiration to outright plagiarism but I suppose that's quite hard to avoid with fantasy.

Jubal

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #183 on: November 14, 2021, 11:00:32 AM »
Ooh, I read Memory, Sorrow and Thorn a while ago and remember really liking them, though what I remember now is quite hazy on a "That's the one that had kinda inuit-ish dwarfy people and elves with a really complex and fun sounding boardgame that never got explained properly and a bunch of magic swords, right" level. But I'd like to re-read them sometime.
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Pentagathus

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #184 on: November 14, 2021, 01:46:18 PM »
Yes that sounds about right. Though the trolls made me think more of fantasy ram-riding Himalayan people than Inuits. Pretty certain the Wranermen of the southern swamps were inspired by native americans.
The audiobooks also have a very good narrator.

Jubal

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #185 on: January 11, 2022, 07:56:21 PM »
I've read two books so far this year, both rather short.

One, a children's book kindly given to me by our own Eadgifu, specifically My Friend Mr. Leakey by J.B.S. Haldane. This prompted by a conversation (which may even have been at Exilian pub sometime) when she mentioned the book and it being by Haldane and me going "wait as in J.B.S. Haldane, one of the most prominent geneticists of the early C20th?" To which the answer was yes. It's a strange and whimsical book, it has some moments of startling colonial-era yikes-ness (not to mention various points where the author is so obviously assuming the reader is a public schoolboy it's painful), but it does have some fun characters. It's very surreal in a lot of places, including a magician's tea-party where all the characters turn into random objects, and also I did learn some things from it: Haldane was incredibly broadly intellectual and well read and there's a lot of references in it which are fun to puzzle out.

Speaking of puzzles, today I finished reading The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers. I can recommend it in general, it's a good mystery without being too dark-hearted, the gentleman detective and lead character manages to not be offputting despite himself, and the twists and turns of the plot are very good indeed. Some of the character portrayals are interesting, particularly the extent to which shell-shock is actually quite an important feature of the thing: one rarely thinks these days how extremely common it must have been across all social groups in the 1920s or so. I can't help slightly morbidly wondering if Long Covid could end up being a similar semi-common peculiarity of portrayals of life in the 2020s and 2030s in years to come...
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medievalfantasyqueen

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #186 on: March 01, 2022, 08:14:17 AM »
Yay! I found this post! I got a couple of great reads this year that I'd recommend but given the state of affairs all over the planet, I think we would all do good with some lovely cozy fantasy. My copy of Travis Baldree's Legends and Lattes just arrived today and I have yet to read it but from the blurb and the prologue I've looked at so far, it feels like a nice cup of coffee and cookies in the breezy summer with the smell of fresh pastries in the air and birds singing in trees... You know, that sort of comfort that we all deserve?

The premise is this: set in a D&D-esque world, an orc barbarian retires from a life of adventure and battles to open a coffeeshop, and meets love and friends along the way. :)

dubsartur

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #187 on: March 01, 2022, 05:18:09 PM »
The premise is this: set in a D&D-esque world, an orc barbarian retires from a life of adventure and battles to open a coffeeshop, and meets love and friends along the way. :)
That sounds charming!

Spritelady

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #188 on: March 15, 2022, 02:00:56 PM »
I've read several books recently(ish) that all had markedly different systems for magic, a topic I find generally interesting since I like getting into the detail of how magic works when worldbuilding for DnD settings and the like.

I read 'A Darker Shade of Magic', which I received for Christmas in fact, and is an intruiging book about a man named Kell, one of the last people able to use magic to travel between different versions of London that exist on different planes. Each is a copy of the same city but found in a completely different world, and each is named after the colours primarily associated with the world, which each have different levels of magic available to its citizens. The magic in this book is very elementally focused, with magicians able to manipulate the classic elements, and rare magicians, Antari, able to use blood magic.

I am also currently very close to finishing the first of the Mistborn books, The Final Empire. This magic system is based on magic users 'burning' metals that they ingest to achieve different effects. Most magic users are only able to burn one particular metal to achieve one particular effect but the Mistborn are able to burn all 8 'basic' metals as well as two others (that the book has only briefly gone into detail on). The metals are grouped into pairs, one which 'pushes' an ability and one which 'pulls' - for example, burning iron allows you to 'pull' metal towards you (literally through the air towards you, or you towards it if you pull something that doesn't want to move) and burning steel allows you to 'push' metal away from you (or you can push off it) and a mistborn can fly through the air by pushing and pulling sources of metal around them to fling themselves about the place, which is quite fun. Not all the abilities are external, for example burning bronze allows you to Soothe - calm and influence the emotions of those around you. The plot itself is also quite fun and has some great characters, including a main character also frequently called Kell, in a strange coincidence with the first book I mentioned.

dubsartur

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #189 on: March 15, 2022, 07:40:11 PM »
I don't have a lot of energy to be chatty, but this book review tag and a friend's partner's Let's Read TSR both have reviews of things as their authors read them!  Maybe I will post in this thread later.

Pentagathus

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #190 on: March 16, 2022, 10:14:04 AM »
I thought I'd already posted this but apparently not.
I watched the Wheel of Time series a couple of months ago, not particularly good but it at least made me look into WOT which lead me to giving the books a try. Was hesitant because of the length of the series, but so far I'm 4 books in and loving it. Quite interesting to see the differences between the show and the books too, don't think I'll bother watching the second season unless reviews for it are top tier.
The world seems to be really original as far as I can tell, there's obviously some Tolkien influence in the story and characters (particularly the first book) but the mythology and magic is not like anything I've seen before. Will probably read into what the influences were behind this series once I'm finished with it.
The world is a kind of post-post apocalypse setting, people have stories and legends of a golden age followed by a great war against "The Dark One" which resulted in the most powerful male magicians imprisoning the dark one but in doing so they have their source of magic corrupted by him, which means any man who uses magic is doomed to go mad (apart from men who serve the dark one apparently/maybe) and kill a ton of people. This leads to a kind of apocalypse as all the male magicians start going nuts and messing things up in a very high fantasy fashion, with female magicians still able to use magic and eventually getting the men under control. Lots of knowledge is lost, men who can channel are rounded up and cut off from their ability to use magic but they become super depressed and usually kill themselves when this happens because magic is kind of like a euphoric drug in this system.
A couple thousand years go by (iirc) and our bunch of heroes are born, the story starts of with a pretty traditional farm boy with mysterious origins story, the protagonists are all from the same village in a shire-esque isolated rural area which no one bothers over and never has any war. Starts of quite slow but I love that slow build. Then things happen. Go read.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2022, 10:24:32 AM by Pentagathus »

Spritelady

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #191 on: March 16, 2022, 02:48:41 PM »
Ooh I've heard good things about the Wheel of Time books, although I'm disappointed to hear that the tv series wasn't particularly engaging.

I think I actually have the first book somewhere, as I received a lot of books over Christmas and am slowly working my way through them. If not, I may have another entry on my enormous 'to buy' list of books!

I finished the Final Empire yesterday and have now begun (and got quite far into) the first Thomas Covenant book, Lord Foul's Bane. This is a really interesting book that features a very unwilling (and indeed rather unworthy, at least based on first impressions) 'hero' who is taken from our world, where he is a bitter, angry leper who has been outcast from society because of his disease, and is thrust into a fantasy world that he believes to be some sort of extended hallucination designed to drive him mad. This is mostly because he appears to no longer be a leper, but he can't accept that reality, because if he hopes its true and it turns out not to be, he knows it will crush him. It's got a very interesting and well thought out world (at least so far), with what I think are quite original concepts (I say original...this was published in 1977 I believe).

It does however have some quite disturbing content, although it's not presented in a hugely graphic way so I would caution a potential reader to establish what trigger warnings may be needed for the content (happy to give some myself if people are curious but would like some precognition of the slightly darker subjects that come up).

Pentagathus

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #192 on: March 17, 2022, 06:41:45 PM »
The series wasn't too bad, just not great. TBF they were hit by the pandemic about halfway through filming, and one of their main cast dropped out which can't have been easy to deal with, but there were also changes from the book story and the magic system that didn't make much sense and don't seem to improve the story.

Spritelady

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #193 on: April 05, 2022, 08:38:08 PM »
Has anyone read the Mistborn series? I'm currently reading the third in the series and it's sparked a lot of interesting thoughts for me from the perspective of someone worldbuilding for writing projects and for GMing RPGs

Jubal

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #194 on: April 05, 2022, 10:51:59 PM »
No, I've never really tried any Brandon Sanderson, which is probably a bad admission given how much fantasy stuff I do/write about. What's the pitch of them?
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...