Yearly Reading Targets 2020

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« Reply #45 on: July 11, 2020, 01:24:02 am »
The Illearth War by Stephen Donaldson
I am still unsure why these are so acclaimed...  Took me the whole month of June and then some to slog through this.  Donaldson is a fine writer as far as the prose and everything goes.  The idea of the story is intriguing, man with a chronic illness is transported to a fantasy land where he is healed, but can't bring himself to believe the experience is more than a hallucination.  The problem is the world is pretty dull, I don't care at all for any of the characters.  The slightly interesting ones (the giant in the first book, and the fat Lord who goes with the expedition to the giants in this one) have small parts.  I thought Hile Troy would be a nice addition; he plays a nice foil to Covenant in the early parts of the book.  But once they separate, he gets to be just as dull as Covenant is without the other.  I did like this book more than book one, but not by much.  I'll slog my way through the final in the trilogy, but I certainly don't expect much from it.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This one was good.  A bit surreal reading about the lead-up and aftermath of a global pandemic that wipes out most of the population.  It was very character focused, and jumped back and forth between their lives before, during, post-pandemic.  There's a good amount of pathos, but contrasted with some nice heartwarming moments.  It's worth reading if you have even a passing interest in the premise.

Wilshire

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« Reply #46 on: July 20, 2020, 03:08:33 pm »
Found some cheap books for sale on audible, so I grabbed a few at random. Can't say I was overly impressed but it wasn't a total waste of time in most cases.

The Road by Cormic McCarthy
Not a fan of this bloke. Hated Blood Meridian, thought I'd give Road a go, and stopped about 15% in. Just not for me.

The Theft of Swords by Michael J Sullivan (17)
A pretty standard fantasy, which is to say that its entirely skippable. Generic plot and bland characters in a flat and uninspiring world.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (18)
Surprisingly good. Its a heist book, which can be pretty hit or miss, but Bardugo did a good job with the world and the characters. Bits of magic sprinkled throughout, and I'm not sure why this got labeled as YA - its dark, and one of the characters removes a guys eye with an oyster knife. If this is YA ... "kids these days".

The Vine Witch by Luanne G Smith (19)
Not sure what to call this. Maybe a fantasy romance? the "vine witches" are mages that live in france in the 1900s and are viticulturists. An interesting use of magic use to describe wine making, with some sub plot romance. It was a fun quick book.

Off to Be The Wizard by Scott Meyer (20)
A scifi/fantasy where a kid discovers he can change reality by editing a .txt file be found on some old server. Goes back in time for magical shenanigans. It was OK, definitely trying to be funny and mostly succeeding, though it was ultimately a very small book without any grand ideas.

Minimum Wage Magic Rachael Aaron (21)
Urban fantasy set in the future, where Detroit was blown up via magic and rebuilt by some deity. A clever little book following a magical crime scene cleaner. Another suprisingly interesting fantasy book, though I don't think I'll be reading any sequels.





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« Reply #47 on: July 21, 2020, 05:05:44 pm »
The Road by Cormic McCarthy
Not a fan of this bloke. Hated Blood Meridian, thought I'd give Road a go, and stopped about 15% in. Just not for me.

 :'(
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira

Wilshire

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« Reply #48 on: July 23, 2020, 07:04:37 pm »
Uprooted by Naomi Novik (22)

I read this one because I got it as a gift due to a mixup from a kickstarter.  pretty good book, though honestly nothing to write home about. The magic is fun and very "real" feeling. Maybe 'natural' is a better term - forest magic. Anyway, its fun, if a pretty standard story about an evil wood, an old wizard, and his young apprentice. A fine YA book, if that's what its labeled as. Recommended, though not if you're looking for something dark and gritty.
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« Reply #49 on: July 28, 2020, 02:27:25 am »
Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson

After spending over a month slogging through Illearth War, I wanted to read something undeniably enjoyable.  I hadn't read this one since it came out 12(?!) years ago.  Strangely, it has a cover blurb by Donaldson.  Erikson has named Donaldson as one of his major influences in the genre.  I guess I can see that in the subversion of epic fantasy....  But man, I just don't get the Donaldson love.  Maybe reading him for the first time in 2020 is just too far removed from its initial publication.
Erikson has a unique ability to wrench emotions (particularly grief and compassion in this book) out of the reader.  Even minor characters (like the unnamed guard following up murders in the slums) get a moment.  Maybe by then my emotions were already under duress.  I was blitzing through the last third.
I will say, it is certainly helpful having the internet around after so many years to quickly recall the originating threads of some of the minor characters.

Up next, some historical novelization.  Hopefully it's tolerable.  Outside my wheelhouse, but it is my trade for a friend of mine diving in to Bakker.

Wilshire

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« Reply #50 on: July 29, 2020, 11:20:25 am »
TTH is definitely Erikson in top form. 12 years seems about right for rereading a Malazan book - though its one of my favorite series its not something I see myself picking up anytime soon - but its only been 3 years.

And yeah, I agree with you on Donaldson. My personal guess is that back in the 70/80's (which is a time period that I dislike most of the books anyway) he stood out as unique, but his stuff really has not aged well (like many books from that period).
« Last Edit: September 30, 2020, 12:40:18 pm by Wilshire »
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« Reply #51 on: August 04, 2020, 06:01:13 pm »
The Powder Mage Trilogy by Brian McClellan, including Promise of Blood (23), The Crimson Campaign(24), and The Autumn Republic(25).

I am am heartbroken I didnt enjoy this series more. Promise of Blood was a brilliant book the first time around, and I reread it before going into the next two. On the second read, it felt a bit more shallow, though still a great book. Unfortunately, the sequels didn't hold up. Its still a good story, but the main characters are simply too powerful. They are given special powers, with no explanation, and to such a degree that other character comment on it. At first I though this was some kind of meta-commentary by the author, but since it never leads anywhere it leaves me feeling a bit confused.

Again, the first book is good, maybe even great. However it is actually cheapened by the sequels. They seem to rehash the same old ground every time, feeling very redundant. The books all open in very similar ways, the characters encounter functionally identical  threats that all end in the same way. In works very well in book 1, but rehashing it twice more is just disappointing.

Before I picked these up, I thought there were only 3 books, but there are actually something like 6 now, all various forms of prequels set before and during the three main books. I'm actually still tempted to read them, with the hope that McClellan covers some new ground and actually goes deeper into worldbuilding.

And maybe that's the rub. There's this big world out there. He's got religion, politics, wars, gods, armies, command structures, gangs, police forces, worker's unions, monarchies, savages, a handful of different kids of diametrically opposed magics... There's just so much there to explore. So many ways the story could have been fleshed out. Instead, what you get is a couple of quick army campaigns with some flavor thrown in for interest, but I'm left wanting more.

Such potential left untapped, Brian McClellan has the potential of a great writer. I do encourage everyone to read Promise of Blood, despite the sequels, as it is by itself quite a fun read.
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« Reply #52 on: August 31, 2020, 11:16:50 pm »
So August was a slow month, only got to one more, but hey it was a non-fiction (which I actually finished) so maybe that counts for something?

Scientific Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive by Peter M. Vishton (26)

The title is a bad start - "scientific secrets" is just a dumb hook, and "thrive" I suspect will be a buzz word I will come to despise. Despite that, it was a very interesting book. More like a series of 20 TED talks, each was pretty informative for the aspiring parent. He does a good job explaining current science, reasoning behind it (ie tests, which ones, how many, if they're any good), but also opposition arguments and potential confounding variables. Good for your average person wanting to understand things, rather than simply being told right or wrong, or being given a simple rule list to follow.

I think I'll try to finish out Acts of Cain. Cain Black Knife could be interesting. But also I got the 'first' (publication order) Pern book in a bogo, so maybe I'll do that instead... We'll see.
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« Reply #53 on: September 30, 2020, 12:34:47 pm »
Caine Black Knife by Matthew Stover (27)
This is an amazing book. The best in the series, imo (and I waited to write this until I had finished Caine's Law so I would say that unequivocally). This book is fascinating given the rest of the series. A lot more self reflection for Caine, as well as some look back into his post-school, pre-fame, years. It is a much shorter book the Blade of Tyshall, mostly because it deals with a much shorter timeline. This small framework spends less time with Caine kicking everyone's ass, and more time with plot and character development - something I think this series needed. If you've invested the time into reading the first two books, with worth continuing.

Caine's Law by Matthew Stover (28)
This one is closer to business as usual, though it seems Stover continues his writing development. There is a deeper concern with philosophy in Caine's Law than previous books, and some entertaining discussions about temporality of Gods (and how that fucks with everything). Overall its a fun conclusion to Acts of Caine, though I suspect not the one most people were expecting. Worth the read.

Dragon's Flight (Pern 1) By Anne McCaffery (29)
I mostly read this one on a whim due to its previous popularity, and also dragons (who doesn't like scifi dragons?). It was ... just ok. Not bad, but plain. Not dull, but predictable. Also, there's an aspect of timetravel, which gets strange real quick, and coming from finishing Caine's Law it felt a bit absurd. The writing got better from start to end, which makes me have some hope that the series gets better, so maybe someday in the future I'll give it another shot. Probably its a fine book for someone looking for a simpler, feel good story about the good overcoming the bad.
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« Reply #54 on: October 05, 2020, 12:44:38 pm »
1984 by George Orwell (30)
This is an amazing book, even today some 70 years after it was published in 1949.  Orwell lays out a fascinating that is disturbingly similar to the direction things are going in 2020. That's not to say there's a worldwide government spying on us all the time, but the functionality of the society Orwell imagined never seems too far from the truth. If you've not read it, do yourself a favor. 1984 is well written, with interesting characters, but as is typical of older SF the main thrust of the novel is not the worldbuilding or characterization, but the central ideas and themes.

For a novel about the perpetual and permanent triumph of absolute evil, it is surprisingly enduring - and endearing.  I've claimed this is one of my favorite books for a long time, but had only read it once more than 12 years ago. I'm glad, after this reread, that my memory hadn't been wrong, and that it still holds its own against the hundreds of books I've read since. The writing is crisp, the world vivid, the prose stark without being overly plain. The ideas in 1984 still inspire profound thoughts about the way the world works today, and provides a bare roadmap for potholes and pitfalls we ought to avoid as the future continuously approaches on the horizon.
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« Reply #55 on: October 13, 2020, 11:51:18 pm »
1984 by George Orwell (30)

For a novel about the perpetual and permanent triumph of absolute evil, it is surprisingly enduring - and endearing.

Wow, that's one helluva blurb, Wilshire!
"The heart of any other, because it has a will, would remain forever mysterious."

-from "Snow Falling On Cedars", by David Guterson

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« Reply #56 on: October 14, 2020, 01:58:56 pm »
Zippy one-liners is about as much as I can do for a book review ;) I'd never survive attempting to make a blog of  my thoughts, but todays world of information quanta spread thinly over multiple platforms, I might be OK.

Crib Sheets by Emily Oster (31)
A baby/parenting book. Emily Oster is an amazing writer and very good at portraying deep research in a digestible fashion. Very helpful. I highly recommend Oster to anyone looking for baby related books. There's tons of information, explanations of data and when it is/isn't good, plus she manages to be humors while doing it.
« Last Edit: October 14, 2020, 02:48:12 pm by Wilshire »
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« Reply #57 on: October 23, 2020, 01:12:45 pm »
Smoke and Stone by Michael R Fletcher (32)
I was... disappointed with this. I picked it over Beyond Redemption because BR wasn't on audible and SAS was. They aren't related, and SAS is newer so I figured it would be fine. Frankly, the prose and the worldbuilding were interesting but the characters were really flat Not a whole lot of characterization, I never felt connected to any of the characters, which may have contributed to the main conflict feeling boring. I was left wanting to learn more about the world Fletcher had crafted, but caring nothing for the people populating it. Which is a damn shame, because it was a unique setting that was well crafted.

So if you don't mind a story with forgettable characters, it may still be worth the read. That said, I'd probably not recommend it and say that maybe Beyond Redemption is worth reading instead.
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« Reply #58 on: October 26, 2020, 08:36:56 pm »
Well, it's been a few months since I updated.  Let's see....

City of Golden Shadow by Tad Williams.  I first read this ages ago.  At least before the first Matrix movie came out, since I recall noting its similarities to Otherland at the time.  It made an impression on my young mind, and I was curious how I'd find it 20+ years later (and the library had a digital loan readily available).  It is....ok.  It takes too long to get where it is going, which is typical for Williams, but the journey is not as enjoyable as his fantasy books.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson.  It started strong, got a little bogged down, but then ended nicely with some intimations of cognitive philosophy to come (hopefully).  The world building ended up feeling a little flat, but it has some potential yet.  I will be reading the next book.

Crash Space by Bakker.  This is short enough I won't count it towards my reading goal.  Madness shamed me into reading Bakker's non-SA work, so I did.  I enjoyed this one a lot, kind of a condensed less soul-destroying Neuropath.  The interaction with Glen showing that unrestrained freedom paradoxically results in bondage is much more in line with some Christian philosophy than I expected to find from Bakker.

Light, Time, and Gravity by Bakker.  Man, I did not expect to like this as much as I did.  It was a little heavy on the philosophical discourse for me, and I learned more about tobacco farming than I ever needed.  The description of that part of Canada as "just more Ohio" was a little sad, but helped me to think of Canada more accurately (I generally consider it to be a combination of frozen wasteland and thick forests).  A lot of it seemed very autobiographical, which is maybe a little concerning.

Disciple of the Dog by Bakker.  I don't read a lot of detective/mystery fiction, but this is at least as good as any I've read.  Certainly this is the most accessible thing Bakker has written, and it ought to be more widely known that it is.  I guess that's the problem with crossing genres.  Or maybe the detective/mystery genre is so oversaturated nothing stands out.

Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart by Steven Erikson.  An interesting take on first contact.  I once tried reading his other sci-fi (Willful Child), but just couldn't be bothered.  I like how positive and hopeful Erikson can be without losing dramatic tension or devolving into thoughtless warm-fuzzies.  I heartily recommend it.

The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang.  This got a lot of buzz when it came out, and look! Time Magazine says they are two of the best 100 fantasy books ever written!  They're fine.  Better than most new fantasy, and it doesn't settle into the expected ruts most fantasies do.  It might drive along them a little or cross over them, but moves along before things get stale.  My biggest problem with events happening and decisions being made for no reason other than convenience of plot.  There are some cool moments and ideas; enough to keep me interested.  I'll read the final book, but it's not the amazing debut I was led expect.

I'll be better about staying on top of things.  That historical novelization is still unread until my friend picks up TDTCB.  I will wear him down.

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« Reply #59 on: October 27, 2020, 02:04:49 pm »
Crash Space is among my favorite works of Bakker. I don't know why exactly, but its a fantastic depiction of short form SFF - and a MUCH better showing than his attempts at TSA short stories (which, while entertaining, are terrible if you're not deeply entrenched into the lore of TSA, which seems to defeat the purpose of the exercise).

I never read LTG, and never intend to, but "just more Ohio" is hilarious enough to make me reconsider.

Disciple is a fun noir. I'm usually disappointed with this type of story, finding them boring more often then not, but Bakker does a fine job given the limitations of the medium. He manages to squeeze in some philosophy and tie-ins with TSA without it becoming overbearing.

Rejoice is something that I wanted to read this year, but I'm not sure I'll get to it. I've not read anything outside of Malazan from him, and I'm curious how he does without millions of words to tell a story. You're brief review is encouraging though.

Poppy War is primarily fascinating due to its setting. I really appreciate the non-western setting with its own trappings, history, and mythology. Probably if it wasn't for that I'd have more qualms, but as it stands I'm a big fan. I love the first book's split from "magic school" to "magic war". This is often mentioned as one of its downsides, which is fair, but the magic school setting can get old quick, and having it end abruptly is fine by me. For a new writer Kuang did a fantastic job... But that Time list of "best fantasy" was drivel (ffs, the panelist authors who made the list all managed to have at least one, if not multiple, books on the list. C'mon, >10% of the list is an advertisement for their own books. Times, i expected better) and I dont think Poppy War belongs on that list. Its good, probably one of my top 20, but its not THAT good.
« Last Edit: October 27, 2020, 02:55:43 pm by Wilshire »
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