Author Topic: What are you reading?  (Read 91706 times)

Spritelady

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #195 on: April 17, 2022, 11:46:55 AM »
Sorry - been a while since I checked in here!

The first book in the series is about a plot to overthrow the Lord Ruler, who rules over the world and is thought to be a living god. A group of people with special skills come together to dethrone him, in order to try and improve things for the skaa - the peasantfolk who are thought of as little more than unintelligent slaves by the nobility who own them and use them for labour.

That's a very very basic summary but I can't get into too much detail without giving away some of the more interesting plot elements. The magic system is incredibly interesting though, it's all based around allomancy, where you consume and then internally burn metals to produce different effects.

On a related note, I discovered Sanderson's Rules of Magic, which are his guidelines to creating and writing about magic systems in fantasy worlds. They're really interesting and well thought out in my opinion!

Jubal

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #196 on: October 09, 2022, 01:15:56 PM »
I bought a big boxed set of Sapowski's Witcher novels - all 5 of the main set, both short story books, and a standalone novel, for 8 in total. I've read through the short story collections (The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny) while ill the past few days, and mostly really enjoyed them.

There are a few things I dislike, particularly Sapowski's writing about women: he uses sexual violence too cheaply in my view as a "hey the world is horrible" establishing frame that handles it rather clumsily. His writing is also very man-stare-at-tits a lot of the time: it's not that he can't write good women characters, he does so a fair number of times, but he doesn't bring their viewpoint in very regularly and intelligently and his women tend to be either sexually interesting or interesting from a stepped back, elder/power perspective, and having more 'neutral' relationships between his protagonists and women would be nice (Yen is kind of both a power figure and a sex figure, Ciri is at this point a literal child so is somewhat the exception in this issue). Also, Yen's general philosophy in the books is, uhm, a bit left-field to put it incredibly politely - even though I get that a lot of that is meant to be the extension of her personal traumas over infertility, the fact that she sometimes expands it to a whole political-philosophy ramble does sometimes shuffle her into sounding a bit of a wingnut.

All that said, generally I've enjoyed them more than I was expecting to, and I like Geralt perhaps more than I was expecting to. I think I expected a bit more action-sequence stuff, which actually there isn't a ton of in Sapowski's short stories in favour of using that to set off a lot of musings about life and stories and storytelling - and of course destiny. I think that's generally done pretty well, and I like the way Sapowski messes around with stories and actively discusses the embellishment and mythologisation of events into tales we're more familiar with. I think this is something which could make the Witcher one of the candidates among fantasy for very long-term cultural adoption, because by design he fits into familiar folk-tale patterns and ideas, and he's such a versatile situational character that one can imagine him being repurposed and rewritten well by future hands in a way that might not be as true for a Conan or a Kvothe or a Ged. Sapowski's Geralt is an interesting, thoughtful, slightly wistful character and written as emotionally actually interesting, which is nice.
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Pentagathus

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #197 on: October 11, 2022, 09:15:22 PM »
There are a few things I dislike, particularly Sapowski's writing about women: he uses sexual violence too cheaply in my view as a "hey the world is horrible" establishing frame that handles it rather clumsily.
Get used to it, the main plotline behind the series does a lot of this as it
Spoiler (click to show/hide)


I remember really enjoying the first book of short stories, finding the second one a little so-so and enjoying the series enough to reading all of the books but absolutely detesting the whole thing by the time I'd finished. There's definitely too much grimdark "people are the real monsters and everything sucks" energy to it for my taste to start with, and then it really really really drives that home
Spoiler (click to show/hide)
, it feels like an "anti-fantasy" with the anti turned up to 11. 
Oh and for some reason he decided to write the final book with a weird framing device that hasn't been used at all before and shoehorn in Arthurian imagery and themes into a story in which they really don't fit imo, which I found very jarring and hard to read. I wish I'd just given up at that point.


I know it's a very popular series but I absolutely do not recommend it, especially if you're not in the mood for depressing grimdark bollocks atm. But people are allowed to like things even I despise them and wish they didn't exist I suppose.


Edit:
Also the final book introduces new characters that you're meant to care about but personally I never felt any emotional investment in them, or any connection to them and the way they influenced the narrative just felt very contrived and boring to me. One was obviously just included to be a new big bad antagonist but I didn't care, the other was introduced to be a sympathetic character we would like and
Spoiler (click to show/hide)
Spoiler (click to show/hide)
but I found her annoying and really really didn't care.



Edit Edit:
In more positive news I finished reading Wheel of Time a while ago, I absolutely friggen loved it and even though I didn't particularly enjoy Sanderson's writing style I think he did a fantastic job of finishing the story after Jordan died. I loved that even though there was a lot of very, very dark stuff within these books it wasn't dark in tone and didn't focus on the horrahh, and it had so much light and hope to balance it out and had such a beautiful cathartic ending. I genuinely want to re-read it again already. But I'll have patience.


Currently working my way through Hillary Mantel's Wolf Hall series in audiobook form, quite enjoyable but also somewhat strange as a narrative, not sure if it's because it doesn't lend itself well to audiobooking or simply because that's how it is, but it's quite hard to get really invested into it. But I am still enjoying it overall and it's actually quite pleasant to have something I can listen to without being superglued to and spending hours hyperfocusing on it and having to turn back the recording if I lose track for a moment because I need to listen to that exact phrase five more times to make sure I'm hearing it properly and processing it.


Edit edit edit:
Remind me to write a proper appraisal of Wheel of Time at some point, I genuinely loved it so so so much and there's so much going on and so many things that feel unique to it and it's definitely one of my favourite series every now, it's probably second only to LoTR and it really is lovely.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2022, 09:41:20 PM by Pentagathus »

dubsartur

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #198 on: October 12, 2022, 01:02:15 AM »
I don't read a lot of fiction since undergrad (maybe three new novels a year and a dozen rereads) but I recently finished the third Heris Serrano novel,  Winning Colours.  Feminist military science fiction for the win! (link points to a review of volume 1)

Jubal

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #199 on: October 12, 2022, 01:03:47 PM »
Ah, that's a pity re the Witcher series :/ I'll probably keep plodding through them at some point... I have to say, with the Arthuriana I wonder how much of the issue is the Arthuriana not fitting and how much is the grimdark not fitting. Like, formre (having played the games and read a couple of books) Witcher stories that mess around with folklore and myth and use Geralt as a sort of grounding-figure for those tales are often the best ones. Like, Blood & Wine is the best bit of TW3 in the games I think and that's absolutely up to its neck in Arthuriana and plays it very enjoyably. I think there's a necessary down to earth ness that's needed for Witcher stories to work, but that stops working when you make humans far worse than they really are just as much as it would stop working in a world where everyone was standardly good and altruistic. Take the Witcher into unrealistically dark humanity territory and you lose a lot of the points about humanity's relationship with myth, time, destiny, etc that Sapowski makes rather well on his good days, because you're not really writing about humans any more.
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Pentagathus

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #200 on: October 12, 2022, 10:55:02 PM »
I'm not sure if it's so much that Arthurian themes don't fit into the story, I didn't express myself well there. It was rather that there wasn't much Arthurian imagery or plot before that final book (as far as I picked up), and then the story suddenly started drawing on it very heavily. It felt jarring for me, it wasn't just that there were new characters and locations that drew on Arthurian myth but the new framing device seemed to be just an attempt to bring in the Arthurian elements in a way that felt very incoherent.

Jubal

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #201 on: October 13, 2022, 11:36:37 PM »
Mm, that's fair enough - I'll let you know if/when I get there. Another friend (Luke/Tuco on here, he comes to Exilian pub oftenish but isn't often round the forum) was saying similar things about despising the ending of the Sapowski books, though I guess given I played the games first I kind of think of them as the ending to the story pre-emptively because they're so very much framed as a sequel to the books. I've also got R.F. Kuang's BABEL to read, which I'm hoping will be good and which at least one friend has been excited to me about so fingers crossed.
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Spritelady

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #202 on: October 22, 2022, 02:27:02 PM »
I've read a few of the Witcher books now and quite enjoyed them - I also particularly liked the fairytale references scattered throughout! And several elements of the plot made significantly more sense after reading the book than I felt they did in the first season of the Witcher TV series (most notably the bit about the wizard being in the marketplace tomorrow; I distinctly remember watching the series and thinking "if he knows they're going to be there, why not just skip the market for the day??").

I've almost finished the first Wheel of Time book, which I've been enjoying immensely and I'm excited to read the series (though given how long they are and how busy I am, that could well take some months!) - I hear the TV adaptation of this was underwhelming, as is unfortunately so often the case with adaptations of books.

Pentagathus

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #203 on: October 22, 2022, 05:52:58 PM »
To be fair to the WOT show it was being filmed as the covid pandemic hit, which really messed up the latter parts. Plus one of the main actors had to leave during this time too. But there were still choices made before this point that were definitely not great, I watched it before starting the books and it was mostly enjoyable up until the last couple of episodes. For some reason it seems like they decided to absolutely butcher the magic system though, personally I don't particularly care about extensive magic systems that much, but for people who do WOT's is a big plus for the series. The male/female split in channelling is actually important for some of the major themes of the series too, so it's quite disappointing that they seem to have dropped that aspect completely (male channelers still go mad, but I don't think Saidin and Saidan are ever mentioned at all). 

Jubal

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #204 on: December 31, 2022, 12:33:46 AM »
I finished another book finally. I’m still not sure that brings my year total into double digits, which is frankly embarrassing. Need to do better next year. Anyway, I’ve now read Blood of Elves, the third Witcher book. It was fine as fantasy books go, except the whole thing about obsessing about virginity which is a bit weird and also some of the Ciri-Yen scenes which rang a teensy bit hollow to me? But I mostly enjoyed it, I'll probably read some more of the books in 2023.
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dubsartur

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #205 on: January 17, 2023, 01:32:51 AM »
I finished another book finally. I’m still not sure that brings my year total into double digits, which is frankly embarrassing. Need to do better next year. Anyway, I’ve now read Blood of Elves, the third Witcher book. It was fine as fantasy books go, except the whole thing about obsessing about virginity which is a bit weird and also some of the Ciri-Yen scenes which rang a teensy bit hollow to me? But I mostly enjoyed it, I'll probably read some more of the books in 2023.
I'm afraid to ask who is obsessed with whose virginity given the tradition of SF and fantasy authors working the private-times kind of fantasy into their fiction.

Speculative and historical fiction which is focused on characters' neuroses and interpersonal conflicts faces the double empathy problem of understanding what issues (hangups? mistaken beliefs that bring sorrow or cause unwise actions?) characters in a different culture had, and communicating those issues and emotions to the reader.  The Lion in Winter and many more recent Hollywood films and games have Boomer daddy issues which don't necessarily fit their settings.

Here is the kind of book I read in 2022.  My ability to read books end to end or for pleasure was much less while I was a PhD student.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2023, 01:56:31 AM by dubsartur »

Jubal

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #206 on: January 17, 2023, 10:51:06 AM »
The answer unfortunately is everyone and Ciri respectively. I think if one wanted to be really really generous, one could just say that virginity is seen as a particularly crucial aspect or life stage in the setting: but I don't think one should be that generous, it's an active choice on Sapkowski's part and it's a really weird active choice.

I think you got through more books than I did in '22 certainly, an interesting list. Perhaps I should keep a list, but perhaps this would just be somewhat depressing for me. I have the same issue re reading like a scholar rather than a reader, and am still very much a PhD student as much as I feel bad about this and ought to have finished by now.

I see you had On Stranger Tides on your list - presumably this book was the basis for the Pirates of the Carribean film of the same name?
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dubsartur

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #207 on: January 17, 2023, 07:22:57 PM »
The answer unfortunately is everyone and Ciri respectively. I think if one wanted to be really really generous, one could just say that virginity is seen as a particularly crucial aspect or life stage in the setting: but I don't think one should be that generous, it's an active choice on Sapkowski's part and it's a really weird active choice.

I think you got through more books than I did in '22 certainly, an interesting list. Perhaps I should keep a list, but perhaps this would just be somewhat depressing for me. I have the same issue re reading like a scholar rather than a reader, and am still very much a PhD student as much as I feel bad about this and ought to have finished by now.
Its also a difference in types of books: there are books which are meant to be "one and done" reads (and which compete with TV and computer games for entertainment times) and books meant to be referenced again and again or meant to be read slowly with concentration.

I see you had On Stranger Tides on your list - presumably this book was the basis for the Pirates of the Carribean film of the same name?
I think it was (there was also a Disneyland or Disneyworld ride, but they needed a plot and characters and Tim Powers delivered).  L. Sprague de Camp stories where most characters have strengths and weaknesses are closer to my model of the world than "a young adult from a good family quickly becomes better at anything he turns his hand to than people who have done it as a job for 10 or 20 years."  (And yes, malnutrition and childhood diseases were a factor before the 20th century, but aristocrats worked hard to become 'effortlessly good' at things, and they had staffs of specialists to make them look good).

In terms of messages for young readers, "to get good you need to do lots of hard repetitive practice and criticize yourself" is much more helpful than "if you are the chosen one you can get good at anything quickly."

Jubal

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #208 on: March 13, 2023, 10:01:48 PM »
I just finished reading my first novel of 2023, which is a lot slower than I'd hoped my reading would be this year - but it was a worthwhile one and a half, in the form of R.F. Kuang's Babel.

It's a heavy book but powerfully worth reading. It has some similarity in gut feel to Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy in its theming of using fantasy to explore a world and a cathartic revolutionary tragedy narrative where the protagonists are essentially set against, rather than for, the preservation of the social order - but it delivers that theme in a much more familiar, much more human way, throwing us into the heart of the British Empire and the University of Oxford recreated in careful historicised detail. It somehow manages to be an intrigue novel, a Shakespearian tragedy, a university tale, a murder story, and a grand magic plot, all overlapping and developing as the story takes different turns. It takes a good writer to deliver any one of these things coherently: the fact that Kuang delivers all of them as a coherent story is a remarkable achievement.

Despite this I was left with mixed, complicated feelings after reading the book - but I think that was perhaps the intention. My only fear is that it's a book where people will ask which of the protagonists was more "right", which I think misses the point. Kuang is interested not just in the corruption and the uncomplicated villains of Empire, though these she certainly has, but in the contradictions and forces acting in different ways upon its victims, and indeed at times exploring how some characters can have a measure of both, and how entirely on-the-right-side actors might not favour or realise the same courses of action, how rebellion and revolution can be at once morally right and necessary and yet self-consuming in the logics of violence that bring them into being. It does not, I think, really offer final answers to these problems, only explanation of how and why these things come to pass for its cast of characters: and this approach, the 'Arcane History' of its subtitle, the quiet academic underpinning and footnoted explanations of the finer points of translation, give it a cold weight that encourages a reflective discomfort almost whatever position one chooses to adopt on its central questions.

Very much would recommend, in any case.
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dubsartur

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #209 on: March 14, 2023, 07:21:28 PM »
While preparing something else for publication, I discovered there is a whole romance about East Anglia before the Roman Norman conquest called Waldef!  That seems like it might be up your alley? https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1k76hvs

The Deeds of Hereward the Wake is set just outside of modern Norfolk too https://archive.org/details/fenlandnotesquer3189pete/page/n433
« Last Edit: March 15, 2023, 05:46:33 PM by dubsartur »