Staying at home is the norm... What are you reading?

Hawki

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The Hate U Give (3/5)

I'm going to start by saying that the film is better. The reason it's better is that it cuts out a lot of the 'fat' of the book. Like, the story overall is the same, but it focuses on the good bits. A major issue with the book is that a lot of the time, it more or less takes a break from the main plotline (the fallout of the police officer shooting Khalil) and the overall plot just stops. Like, a lot of this is used for character development, but again, I think the film does a better job. Since I'm reading a Saga of Seven Suns book at the same time, I'm kind of reminded of the differences between genre (see Saga) and literary (see THUG) fiction. Whether you think it's a valid distinction or not, it's a distinction that I'm at least reminded of.

Still, THUG does good things. If you wanted to say "it's a book about racism" (in the United States)," then you'd be correct, but that's pretty simplistic. The book demonstrates how stuff like racism, poverty, drug use, and all that fun stuff is self-perpetuating. While I stand by my assertion that the film benefits from trimming the 'fat' of the book, the book is more wide ranging in the topics it wants to tackle. So while it is a drear to read at times, it does convey its themes well.
 

Dalisclock

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Nightside the Long Sun(1993)-Gene Wolfe

I read the Book of the New Sun(and it's sequel, the Book of the New Urth) a couple months back by Mr. Wolf and it was an unexpectedly good read for me. Now, I've decided to try the Sequel series "The Book of the Long Sun" which like the before series, is a Tetralogy. I've finished the first one, the oddly named "Nightside the long sun"(yes, there is no "of" in there).

It'd written much the same way as the New Sun books and is implied to be set in the same universe, but how is so far not clear. The plot follows Patera Silk, a 23 year old religious leader called an Augur, who is "enlightened" during a ball game with his students, which is likened to briefly getting a Godlike view of reality, which so far hasn't much of anything to do with the rest of the story, which is his church/parish was sold to a unscrupulous businessman named Blood and Silk makes it his mission to get control of it back before everyone is evicted. This involves breaking into Bloods Estate with the intention of threatening/persuading him and Blood, catching him in the act, is so impressed with his sheer recklessness/tenacity, offers him an offer to buy it back for a very large sum of money, within a month or everyone is out on the street.

The plot isn't particularly special but it's enough. What makes Wolfs books interesting is both the world building and how it's just casually dropped into the narrative without much in the way of exposition. Notably, the fact one of the women(called Sibyls) who works with Silk is essentially a 300 year old android and this is considered not worthy of comment. Floating cars are mentioned as something the rich own but most can't afford and it's heavily implied the entire setting (Called the Whorl) is a generation spaceship(and the fact characters mention being able to look into the sky and see other parts of the whorl imply it's a ringworld, a sphere or a cylinder of some sort). People refer to the "Time of the Short Sun" (as opposed to their current "Time of the Long sun") like it was a very long time ago but not exactly what the short vs long sun actually mean and it's outright mentioned a lot of their tech can't be recreated or repaired anymore, because the knowledge is gone. So like the Book of the New Sun, it's implied to take place very far in the future and the whorl is likely to be massive considering there are entire towns and cities inside, along with countryside seperating them(thus why I think it might be a ringworld or a cylinder).

What's really interesting to me is how Silk's(and apparently most peoples) religion is this weird mix of Catholicism and Polytheism(Gene Wolfe was Catholic, so it's a safe bet this is intentional). The Structure seems to be very Catholic, with Silk being something akin to a priest(and even performing an exorcism at one point, as well as performing confession and setting penance), and his doman being a Parish(maybe?). However, the religion itself follows 13 gods, each of whom have their own day of the week that pull their names from numerous cultures, such as: Sphinx, Scylla, Tartaros, etc and one called the Outsider and Patera makes animal sacrifices to them on their particular days as a form of worship.

To add to this, there's repeated hints the gods are something more technological in nature. At one point someone who has died is mentioned to have gone to "Mainframe" and there's the occasional mention of "Windows" that the gods can appear at/in(but this apparently hasn't happened in a long time). Near the end of the book, it's revealed the "Windows" are essentially two-way TVs/Monitors, and some of them still work. What's more, this isn't a matter of "Advanced Tech being Magic", at least I don't think, because at one point someone is discussing the parishes Window with Silk, saying "I went behind it and there were cords connecting into the back" and his reply was "Oh, those are the sacred cables", which Silk later repairs and allows one of the Gods to talk to him directly.

So they're not unaware of tech or that the gods are associated with the tech, flat out discussing they can't recreate it anymore because they don't have the knowledge to do so, it just comes across as kinda nuts and interesting. And like the earlier series, all this stuff that's weird to us is very matter of fact to them so it just gets casually dropped in conversation and leaving the reader to go "Wait? What was that?".

Started the next book, Lake of the Long Sun. Hopefully it will flesh some of this stuff out more but if it's anything like the previous series I doubt everything will be explained by the end.
 
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Hawki

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Saga of Seven Suns: Of Fire and Night (3/5)

There isn't much to say on this book that I haven't said on the series already - good worldbuilding, with average characters and average writing. There's also the fact that at this point, there's some sections of the plot that interest me more than others. Hansa and Empire stuff? Nice. Roamer and wental stuff? Bleh.

The only real thing of note is the ending battle scene (or rather, scenes), since the book ultimately culminates in a massive attack on Earth, that's simultanious with Roamer/wental attacks on hydrogue worlds, along with a hydrogue kamikaze attack on Ildira. I mean, it's not necessarily good writing in of itself, but it does come with a sense of scale, and a sense that this being the fifth book in the series, a lot of stuff has paid off. But apart from that, not much to say. I mean, there's still two more books in the series that I may someday get round to reading.
 

Cicada 5

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Peter David's 2006 X-Factor run.

I'm on issue #33 right now. It's been very entertaining so far.
 
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Johnny Novgorod

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Finally finished Captains Courageous by Kipling. It's a great little coming of age story. Even though it was published 1897 it already treats the whole nautical adventure genre with nostalgia, which works in a coming of age narrative of self-discovery/personal growth. Protagonist gets schooled by a dying older generation, gets to carry the torch while also adapting with the times. Good stuff.
 

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Halo: Shadows of Reach (3/5)

It's weird coming to this book straight off Fire and Night. Because while both books are sci-fi, the style of writing is so completely different. For better or worse.

I'm pretty sure that I've said that Anderson's writing skill is pretty average. What I may not have specified is that this 'averageness' extends to his handling of tactics. It was terrible in Shadow of the Xel'naga, and it's generally lacklustre in SoSS. When your general's rallying cry in the first book is "let's go kick some hydrogue butt!", you knwo you're in trouble.

The reason I bring this up is that Shadows of Reach is way, way, WAY on the opposite end of the spectrum, and I don't necessarily like it any better for it. Yes, Halo's always been military sci-fi, but Christ, Denning's done his research and by God you're going to know it. Facts, figures, facts, figures - you can't say "X had a rifle," you have to say "X had an MA5B rifle," and explain why MA5Bs are still useful, as opposed to all other rifles, which usually begin in M. Now explain that mindset to every vehicle, every aircraft, every piece of ordnance, and entire chapters dedicated to discussing tactics. I mean, again, Halo's always been military sci-fi, but I've never come across a book in the series that spends so much damn time on every minute detail. I've never generally been a fan of the military sci-fi genre (sci-fi, yes, military, no), and reading Shadows is a reminder as to why.

That's not to say it's all bad. There's times when things do flow better, when Denning takes a break from describing how weapons are used, and let's them, y'know, be used. It's enough to give the book 3 rather than a 2. That said, there's still drawbacks. Character-wise, there's little interesting - yes, I know these characters, but none of them really grow or change in the duration. And the book rankles me because while the issue of Cortana and the Guardians are in the background, they remain in the background. Going by what I've seen of Infinite and having read this book, it's clear that the Banished are being pivoted to be the big bad of the series, and while the Created aren't necessarily being forgotten, they do appear to be brushed to the side. And I'm sorry, I don't find the Banished interesting. There's so much you could do with the Created, but thanks to the backlash of Halo 5, I don't think we'll ever see that. So when Blue Team complete their mission, when they retrieve the McGuffin from CASTLE Base (a plot twist that I'm kind of indifferent to), I'm left to ask whether any of it mattered. Plotwise, at least as far as tying into Halo Infinite, I don't see this book making much of an impact on the plot. Which is another set of extremes - Halo 4 and 5 were criticized for relying on EU material too much. Infinite, on the other hand, seems to spur EU connections entirely. I mean, apart from explaining how the Banished can get to the Ark so easily, nothing in this book seems to really set up Infinite in any capacity.

So, yeah. Not a bad book, and not the worst Halo book, but disappointing. Disappointing because I was under the impression that this would be to Infinite what Fall of Reach was to Combat Evolved. But it isn't. Not just in terms of how it connects to Infinite (or doesn't), but the writing. Nyland incorporated lots of military linguo and worldbuilding into FoR, but he never slowed down the pace of the plot to do so. Denning, on the other hand, seems primarily concerned with showing you how much research he's done on Halo lore, plane mechanics, space mechanics, tech, and everything else. Which may make for good lore porn for some people, but it doesn't make for a captivating novel.
 

Crystal Violet

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21 Lessons for the 21st Century (4/5)

21L is by the same author who authored Sapiens, and it shows. It's arguably a sequel to it, in as much that a piece of non-fiction can be a 'sequel' that is. I don't think you need to read Sapiens to 'get' 21L, but it does help. At the least, the book is engaging, but falls short of Sapiens. It isn't so much 21 lessons, but rather numerous essays on related themes. All of it's well done, but some things are more well done than others. For instance, the author's fears of bio-technology and augmenting humans feels too apocalyptic, while he barely goes into the risk of ecological collapse, even if he does mention the risk. It's probably at its best when it looks at forces like nationalism, gloablization, and culture/religion.

All in all, a very good read, but it's not Sapiens, which was a great read.
I was dumb enough to read 21L first and I was a bit underwhelmed. I'm reading Sapiens now and it's much better.
Artemis by Andy Weir (the guy who wrote The Martian). It's okay I guess, but the way he's written a mid-twenties woman (the main character) is painfully 'but girls have cooties that you catch from sexing them'. I do not think Matt Damon will be eager to star in this one. Also, she's a massive Mary Sue.
Oh I thought that was a bit shit but it's been a while.
Moby Dick.

I've been reading this on-again-off-again for the better part of two years now. And I detest this book. But I have to finish it since I started it.
Just get to the part where everyone dies.
I have never understood the English-speaking world's obsession with that horrible dredge of a book.
 

Baffle

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Sunburn by James Felton.

It's a dive into some of The Sun's shittiest behaviour, which I'm sure you can imagine is pretty shitty. Entertaining but depressing that we let (and continue to let) this shit fly.
 

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World of Warcraft: Shadows Rising (4/5)

4/5 feels too generous, but on the other hand, 3/5 feels too low. But I think I have to give context for that.

So, basically, my sitch with Warcraft is that I got into it via the RTS games, but I just don't like playing MMOs (sans LoTRO), so I've tried to follow the Warcraft lore since WC3 as best I can without actually playing WoW. Over time, this has become harder and harder, as the plot points introduced from the RTS era have been cleared up, and new story/lore has developed. So come Battle for Azeroth and now, Shadowlands, I'm kind of in the dark in a lot of areas. So on one hand, that I was able to be engaged with the plotline and characters, many of whom I had no reference point for, is a testament to the book's writing. On the other hand, I still feel that maybe it's a bit too generous. Like, these are tie-in books, and aren't 'high art,' but even so...

Meh. 4/5 is still the way to go I guess. Pacing is good, characters are good, and it gets into the politics of things. For better or worse though, this barely ties into Shadowlands. Besides some foreshadowing in the novel itself, there's not much to link it to the game, sans the end, where in the epilogue, we pick up literally seconds after the Shadowlands intro cinematic. This is probably a key area where I'm in the dark, because I don't know anything about the titular Shadowlands, and unlike prior expansions, I've had less time and inclination to find out. That's not really an inditement of WoW in of itself, but again, an acknowledgement that as time goes by, it's going to be harder to keep up.

Well, at the least, still a good read.
 

Pseudonym

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I've been reading 'A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms'. It's three prequels to the song of ice and fire books packed together, about a young knight named Duncan the Tall or Dunk. Now Duncan is just adorable, and it's nice to read some stories in this world where the pov character doesn't have to suffer through the loss of life or limb or family or of his entire sense of self or sense of order in the world or all of those things but instead a story where things work out once in a while. Martin likes the clash of romanticized idealization with crude reality but sometimes I like to indulge in the former just a bit. I also was again surprised to find how easy it is to read through hundreds of pages of Martin in a weekend. I got through the whole thing in like two days.
 

Hawki

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Martin likes the clash of romanticized idealization with crude reality but sometimes I like to indulge in the former just a bit.
It's interesting that you mention that, because I felt the same thing when I read it. Like, it's undoubtedly set in the same universe as the books, and Westeros still isn't that pleasant a world, but it's a bit more lighthearted, and willing to give us happier endings.
 

Crystal Violet

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I've been reading 'A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms'. It's three prequels to the song of ice and fire books packed together, about a young knight named Duncan the Tall or Dunk. Now Duncan is just adorable, and it's nice to read some stories in this world where the pov character doesn't have to suffer through the loss of life or limb or family or of his entire sense of self or sense of order in the world or all of those things but instead a story where things work out once in a while. Martin likes the clash of romanticized idealization with crude reality but sometimes I like to indulge in the former just a bit. I also was again surprised to find how easy it is to read through hundreds of pages of Martin in a weekend. I got through the whole thing in like two days.
That's a great one! I like the Dunk and Egg tales for levity whenever I finish another GRRM book.
 

Drathnoxis

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The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.

Some were pretty good, others not so much. It's interesting to see the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes came from Poe's Dupin. It's also pretty funny reading some of his forward looking works and how off the mark they were. He had a bit of a fascination for Balloons and Mesmerism in particular. Some of his satire pieces were pretty repetitive, The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq. being a good example with some paragraphs being paraphrased repeatedly 4 or 5 times. Also, one thing that was really annoying was his tendancy to slip in quotes from some other language like French or Latin completely without translation, The Duc De L'Omelette was basically unreadable because of that. It's hard to think of too much to say about a collection of so many short stories, though.

On the whole though I quite enjoyed reading his stories, I skipped most of the poems though.
 
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Hawki

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Halo: Bad Blood (3/5)

Bad Blood isn't a bad novel (sort of), not is it the worst Halo novel. However, it does stand as one of the most disappointing I've read.

It's kind of weird coming to this so soon after Shadows of Reach, because it really highlghts the difference in writing styles. As I stated, SoR went into every detail of every single thing. BB, on the other hand, is far less detail-orientated. And weird as it is, I kinda miss it.

Maybe I wouldn't if the novel was actually better, but there isn't much to reccomend. The novel starts at the same time Halo 5 ends, and I figured "hey, this'll be neat, an interquel." Well, not really. It reunites Buck with the members of Alpha-Nine, they do a mission that doesn't really accomplish much, boom, the end. It doesn't really affect the status quo of the main storyline. I can't help but wonder if this is 343 overcompensating, that after so many people complained (rightly, IMO) that Halo 4 required EU material to understand, that EU works are now more detached from the games. I get the rationale behind that, but the book remains "meh." Writing is basic, characters are basic, plot is basic. Maybe I'm expecting too much from tie-in fiction, but by the standards of the setting? Not really. I'd probably get more out of it if I read New Blood (which the book takes a lot of reference from), or was really invested in the characters of ODST (which I'm not), but at the end of the day...meh.
 

Hawki

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Force and Motion (2/5)

Bleh.

That's all I have to say about this, "bleh." You could point out that I'm not overly familiar with Deep Space 9, but that's hardly an issue in this case. It's a DS9 novel only in as much that it has two characters from it (O'Brien and Nog), and takes place after DS9. That isn't good or bad in of itself, but it does add to my assertion that me not being that familiar with DS9 isn't why I've ranked this as low as I have.

The other side of the coin is that the story sort of focuses on Commander Maxwell from TNG. The character who attacked the cardassians or whatnot. Again, haven't seen the episode proper, but I've seen the relevant clips. However, I say "sort of" because there's no real reason for him to be in the story. As in, you could replace Maxwell with any other character (or at least an OC), and little would actually change.

That's really the main issue with the book - it's plot. None of it was engaging. Oh yes, it does have a plot, but I can only really describe it as "O'Brien and Nog go to a space station that Maxwell is stationed on, bad stuff happens." Really, that's it. Oh yes, I could kind of describe the stuff, but I don't care, and barely remember it. The most interesting parts of the novel are the flashbacks that deal with Maxwell's backstory prior to his TNG episode, and his subsequent incarceration. However, even these wear out their welcome, as they're not in chronological order, and I couldn't shake the feeling that at least some of them were to pad the novel. And even that aside, if the most interesting thing happening in your novel is the flashbacks, then something's gone wrong with the main plot. And what's wrong is that I couldn't be invested in any of it.

So yeah. This Deep Space 9 novel sure as hell ain't Deep Space fine.
 

CM156

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The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

I always wondered what would make a large group of people willingly kill themselves just because a madman ordered it. Now? I think I have a better idea. And I think that's the wrong way to phrase the question.

Also, it's pretty wack that Guyana leased the land to Jones specifically because Venezuela claimed the territory and they were worried about an invasion but thought a few hundred US citizens would be a shield.
 

Hawki

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The Compressed Story of Dinosaur Planet (3/5)

This is an internal Rare document that was made available on the Internet, detailing the original plot outline for Dinosaur Planet. As in, before it became a Star Fox game. Read it as part of research for a Star Fox story I'm working on (or rather, trying to work on), but that aside, judging this purely on its own merits, how does it hold up?

Well, TBH, I think that's kind of the wrong question, because this can't really be evaluated as a standard story. Rather, the question is, how does this compare to Star Fox Adventures, and how does it fare on its own as a plot idea?

Well, to the former, it's interesting - Adventures clearly took a lot from the outline here. Anyone who laments the loss of Dinosaur Planet for SFA should read this - in all likelihood, we'd have had a very similar game, or at least, a very similar story. What's noticable though is that here, Krystal isn't a damsel in distress, rather, she and Sabre handle things equally. Far as I can tell, Krystal's sections in Dinosaur Planet were handed over to Fox in SFA. For instance, when you go to Cloudrunner Fortress and have to leave Tricky behind? Cloudrunner Fortress was original Krystal's schtick, which explains the lack of Tricky (though no Kyte, for some reason). Dinosaur Planet is superior to SFA on at least that front, in that Krystal isn't a damsel in distress for 99% of the game. Why this change was made, I have no idea - maybe Nintendo/Rare didn't want Fox to have competition?

On the other hand, let's look at the plot in of itself. It's kind of banannas actually. The krazoa and the kimerans fought a war at the dawn of the universe, and Dinosaur Planet is the result of a dragon's body, and the magic threatens the universe, and...yeah. Everything's over the top, at least as far as the stakes go. At least SFA kept the stakes to a single star system, but in Dinosaur Planet? Nup. Universe.

So. Here's the final question - if Dinosaur Planet had been released instead of Star Fox Adventures, would it have been better received? To that, I say...I don't know. SFA gets a lot of flak for not feeling like a Star Fox game, but some of the flak also comes from the assertion that the game just isn't that good. Whether I agree or not, answering this question, I'd say it would probably have been better received, but also more likely to be forgotten. As in, there's no pre-existing tone/canon to clash with, but the story that's presented...there's nothing special about it. If I played this as it was intended for originally, I might have more nostalgia for it, but I doubt I'd hold it in the same regard as Ocarina of Time, or even Majora's Mask. Of course, the document can only convey the story, and gameplay can certainly make up for that. I might have a lot of love for 90s Rare, but let's be honest, of all Rare's strengths in this era, story was never among them. The most story-intensive game they made for the N64 was Perfect Dark, and, well...y'know...

So, yeah. I think we arguably lost something through the loss of Dinosaur Planet, but on the other hand, that "something" was pretty small.