Author Topic: Now reading  (Read 93191 times)

mgriffin

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Now reading
« on: December 07, 2007, 10:39:14 AM »
In my teens and early twenties, I was a big sci-fi and fantasy reader.  I sort of got away from that stuff in college, and got into the "I'm a serious lit major and I don't read that stuff" mindset for a while... but now (triggered by the Lord of the Rings films, I think) I've been enjoying getting back into some of the books I loved when I was younger.

One set of books I bought in the late 70s but never got around to reading, is Ursula LeGuin's "Earthsea" series, starting with "A Wizard of Earthsea."  This last week I've been listening to an unabridged audiobook of "A Wizard of Earthsea" and aside from the annoying presence of Harlan Ellison as the "voice" of this audiobook, I really enjoyed the story and it made me want to explore the rest of the series.

These slim, simple books have more in common with the minimal and poetic fable-like quality of "The Little Prince" than with more epic fantasy series like "The Lord of the Rings." The story is basically about a young boy who discovers he has basic magical powers, and he is befriended by a sort of magical mentor who sees to it that he's enrolled in a school for magicians.  Apparently, J.K. Rowling had read this book... but there is no real similarity to the "Harry Potter" series.  This is more quiet and moody, somber and earthy.  In this book, words have great importance, in particular names.  Knowing the name of an object, its "true" name and not just the name that everyone calls it, has great significance.

This is the first time I've listened to an audiobook and been moved to immediately get out the printed book and actually read it.  Harlan Ellison so overdid it with the overdramatic and silly voices for various characters, that I found myself cringing at times.  Sometimes, an audiobook can be just as enjoyable as reading, but not this time.

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Brian Bieniowski

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2007, 11:53:56 AM »
I'm a big sci-fi and fantasy reader myself (who'd have guessed).  I haven't picked up an Earthsea book since high school, but, back then, I don't recall them making much of an impact on me.  I'd like to try them again, though.  I've enjoyed Le Guin's science fiction novels.

I just finished reading The Golden Compass and I am halfway through the second book in the Philip Pullman series.  I would like to add my name to the list of Harry Potter Haters, and I confess I dismissed the Pullman books as of the same diluted ilk.  I couldn't have been more wrong—these are surprisingly adult and ambitious books, and I can't wait to see the movie now!

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2007, 12:04:52 PM »
I've been reading Far Machines, which is a book by Nasa that covers the satellite missions of the 60s and 70s.

I've also been working my way through the collected Tintin by Herge. Not sure if these are comics or graphic novels, but they are a nice light read.
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mgriffin

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2007, 12:14:16 PM »
I'd add, furthering the subject of "college lit majors who are too cool to read sci-fi," that I recall it was "cool" for lit majors to read stuff like Philip K. Dick, Stanislav Lem, J.G. Ballard, and Anthony Burgess, while turning up our noses at Heinlein, Asimov and the like.

Oh, and also... Ursula LeGuin lives right up on Thurman or Upshur in NW Portland, right by where Lena and I run & ride our bikes sometimes.
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Brian Bieniowski

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2007, 01:10:20 PM »
I'd add, furthering the subject of "college lit majors who are too cool to read sci-fi," that I recall it was "cool" for lit majors to read stuff like Philip K. Dick, Stanislav Lem, J.G. Ballard, and Anthony Burgess, while turning up our noses at Heinlein, Asimov and the like.

SF has gotten more acceptable for lit majors in some colleges, where it's taught alongside the "real" literature.  Interestingly enough, the older masters like Asimov still get passed over for more "respectable" names like PK Dick and Lem.  It's preposterous of course, but I guess it fits the typical college curriculum.  I enjoy Ballard and Lem and Delany and all the rest, but I'd never have become interested in SF if it were not for Asimov and Blish and many of the other old timers.  I find that most of those books are still compulsively readable ... not something I can say about many of the more experimental works by "acceptably hip" SF writers.ß

jkn

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2007, 01:25:06 PM »
In fantasy land - I just finished the 6 book series "War of the Spider Queen" written by six different authors and overseen by R.A. Salvatore.   I'd give it a solid "eh, it's ok" rating.  First four books were decent, five and six started dwindling.  I think the last book was the weakest - and trying not to spoil anything - I'd say that while the characters get what they deserve, it'd be nice if it had ended differently.    I got them on sale - don't think I wasted my money because I did enjoy it - but they won't be books I'll be anxious to read a 2nd time (and I almost always read my favorites 2-4 times each... :)   LOTR I've read about 11 or 12 times... )

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Bill Binkelman

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2007, 01:45:06 PM »
I'm a big sci-fi and fantasy reader myself (who'd have guessed).  I haven't picked up an Earthsea book since high school, but, back then, I don't recall them making much of an impact on me.  I'd like to try them again, though.  I've enjoyed Le Guin's science fiction novels.

I just finished reading The Golden Compass and I am halfway through the second book in the Philip Pullman series.  I would like to add my name to the list of Harry Potter Haters, and I confess I dismissed the Pullman books as of the same diluted ilk.  I couldn't have been more wrong—these are surprisingly adult and ambitious books, and I can't wait to see the movie now!

Brian,

You're aware (and Mike, this goes for you too) that LeGuinn wrote two more Earthsea books after the original trilogy, right? The last one is a real gut-wrencher and had me in tears, sobbing, at the end. Very powerful conclusion to the entire Ged saga.

I just finished the His Dark Materials trilogy and I seem to be among the few that loved all three books. The Subtle Knife is much more out there than The Golden Compass and The Amber Spyglass makes The Subtle Knife look like child's play. The ultimate ending, though, I found a little anti-climactic.

From what I've read and the trailers/peeks I've seen of the Golden Compass film (which I'm seeing this weekend), they really altered the guts of the story and, of course, the biggest news is they omitted the HUGE shock ending, saying it would be the start of the next movie. However, IMO, I don't see any way they film the whole series. Period. The third book is absolutely unfilmable. No way it can be done and be visually coherent. It's just too metaphysical and...well....weird. Hell, if despite being optioned numerous times by studios, no one ever got around to filming Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, they're sure as hell are not going to film The Amber Spyglass.

Plus, without spoiling anything, with what they have cut out of the movie of The Golden Compass, namely the entire religious subtext of the plot, the third book would be too confusing unless they rewrote about 5/6 of the plot.

By the way, Brian or Mike, did either of you watch the complete abortion of Earthsea that the SciFi Network put on. LeGuinn was just horrified by it and wrote at length about how betrayed she felt, due to the promises which were made when she sold the rights to them. Pity.

mgriffin

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2007, 01:48:57 PM »
My understanding is that LeGuin wrote the original Earthsea trilogy right around the same time, then much later wrote another novel in the series, and then another.  At some point there was a collection of short stories set in the Earthsea world, with less of a direct connection to the story of the novels.

And yes, I read her complaints about the Sci-Fi Channel adaptation of the first book.  Sounds like the producers weren't exactly acting in good faith.
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Bill Binkelman

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #8 on: December 07, 2007, 03:12:48 PM »
My understanding is that LeGuin wrote the original Earthsea trilogy right around the same time, then much later wrote another novel in the series, and then another.  At some point there was a collection of short stories set in the Earthsea world, with less of a direct connection to the story of the novels.

Exactly. There was a large gap between book 3 and 4 and a shorter gap between 4 and 5.

And yes, I read her complaints about the Sci-Fi Channel adaptation of the first book.  Sounds like the producers weren't exactly acting in good faith.

I only lasted 15 minutes. They changed so much in just that time that I couldn't stomach it. Basically, they smashed together the plots of A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan and inserted a stupid evil emperor subplot. Then they changed Ged from black (which is what he was) to white. They made him a "bubbly" teenage boy instead the shy withdrawn orphan given over to Ogion to be raised and the movie opened with Ged romping through the fields with his nubile girl-friend...who, of course, never even existed in the books. And, like I said, that's the first 15 minutes! ARGH!!! >:(

mgriffin

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2007, 03:51:50 PM »
I'd add, furthering the subject of "college lit majors who are too cool to read sci-fi," that I recall it was "cool" for lit majors to read stuff like Philip K. Dick, Stanislav Lem, J.G. Ballard, and Anthony Burgess, while turning up our noses at Heinlein, Asimov and the like.

SF has gotten more acceptable for lit majors in some colleges, where it's taught alongside the "real" literature.  Interestingly enough, the older masters like Asimov still get passed over for more "respectable" names like PK Dick and Lem.  It's preposterous of course, but I guess it fits the typical college curriculum.  I enjoy Ballard and Lem and Delany and all the rest, but I'd never have become interested in SF if it were not for Asimov and Blish and many of the other old timers.  I find that most of those books are still compulsively readable ... not something I can say about many of the more experimental works by "acceptably hip" SF writers.ß

I should make sure it's clear that I'm sort of making fun of my college-age pretensions, not saying that only those "literary sci-fi" authors are worth reading.

Like you say, I'd be more likely to read Gregory Benford or Greg Bear than Phil Dick or Stanislav Lem these days.  I don't know if those first two are taken seriously at all in sci-fi circles... for all I know, they're the Danielle Steele and the Jackie Collins of the sci-fi world... but I find their work compelling in a "page-turner" way.
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Dave Michuda

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2007, 05:46:19 PM »
I just finished William Gibson's latest, "Spook Country".  I guess I enjoyed it, sort of.  I just never really got into it.  I just kept reading because I wanted to finish it, not because I couldn't put it down.  It wasn't bad, it just didn't pull me in.

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2007, 01:21:05 AM »
Well, IMO, the movie adaptation of The Golden Compass was terrible, but understand that I am filtering it through how much I loved the book. It captures none of what made the book so cool, again IMO. Not a bad piece of fluff fantasy for those who didn't read the book, but man, did they gut the metaphysical and theological concepts which made the book so deep. They really dumbed it down!

I went to an 11pm showing tonight and man, was it crowded....lots of 20 somethings. Surprised to see that many younger folks there, frankly.

9dragons

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #12 on: December 08, 2007, 02:27:37 AM »
It's nice to see a fantasy/sci-fi lit discussion coming up. I can echo your sentiments about the return to reading great sci-fi and fantasy at a later date, Mike. I've just got back into reading some old favorites that I had rejected long ago, after a long stint of only reading nonfiction and journalism. Somehow, in this warped time we live in, I feel allowed to return to the true and wonderful place of fantasy. I've jumped back into H.P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, and Clark Ashton Smith, whose stars seem to shine brighter even from the distance of first read to now. Amazing and beautiful as ever, but offering something deeper to me this time, a commentary on the age we live in, a state of wonder long lost but found again...At this point, actually, it feels like fantasy/sci-fi, especially of an older cast, is the only thing worth reading among fiction.

Among newer writers, I am a fan of Gibson, but only enjoyed half of 'Spook Country', the rest feeling kind of limp and over-programmed (but the first half really was genius), and also enjoyed China Mieville's 'Perdido Street Station' and 'The Scar'. Anyone checked these out?

mgriffin

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #13 on: December 08, 2007, 11:06:07 AM »
I have a real craving to read some Lovecraft and Poe again.  I've also been thinking of revisiting "The Castle of Otranto," this weird gothic novel I read in high school.

More than any return to a certain genre, I seem to be thinking a lot about revisiting some of the literature of a certain time period in my life, I guess age 14 to 24.  For example, I've actually been thinking about looking into Stephen King again, something I really loved for a few years in my mid-late teens, and then after Different Seasons or whatever it's called, I stopped reading him entirely.

I think I'm about to try reading Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner.

And I bought a copy of Perdido Street Station but haven't read it yet.
 

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Brian Bieniowski

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #14 on: December 08, 2007, 03:20:40 PM »
Bill, that is a terrific icon you have.   ;D

9Dragons, have you ever tried out William Hope Hodgson?  Judging by your enjoyment of Dunsany and the rest, I'm sure you'd like him also.  I have been picking up the new volumes of Clark Ashton Smith's work, finally a complete edition of his fantasies.  I have always thought he was underrated so it's nice to see him get first class treatment.

Mike, I think writers like Greg Bear and Greg Benford are extremely important because there are fewer and fewer real "hard" SF authors who really get their hands dirty with the scientific aspects of their books.  These two are certainly titans from that perspective.  Unfortunately (especially for those of us in the business who edit science fiction and not fantasy) it would seem the more rigorous kinds of SF are somewhat out of fashion in favor of other things.  I would highly recommend the recent books of Robert Charles Wilson and Robert Sawyer to you, if you're looking for cool concepts and interesting science (not to mention deft storytelling).

I saw The Golden Compass last night and thought it was pretty good.  Not exactly like the book, but I thought they did a good job with such involved material.  I have to be honest—I never expect very much out of movies, so I wasn't disappointed, even if it did seem a little flat.

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #15 on: December 08, 2007, 03:55:26 PM »
Mike, I think writers like Greg Bear and Greg Benford are extremely important because there are fewer and fewer real "hard" SF authors who really get their hands dirty with the scientific aspects of their books.  These two are certainly titans from that perspective.  Unfortunately (especially for those of us in the business who edit science fiction and not fantasy) it would seem the more rigorous kinds of SF are somewhat out of fashion in favor of other things.  I would highly recommend the recent books of Robert Charles Wilson and Robert Sawyer to you, if you're looking for cool concepts and interesting science (not to mention deft storytelling).

Thanks for the recommendations, Brian.  A quick browse at Amazon leads me to believe that I'd enjoy Rollback, Spin, and Axis, at least.
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Re: Now reading
« Reply #16 on: December 11, 2007, 08:51:56 PM »
Talking of sci-fi ... recently finished Alastair Reynolds "Revelation Space". Found it to have some great concepts and ideas, but in the end an unsatisfying plot. Little ponderous.

Now re-reading "The Sybil" by Par Lagerkvist.  Not sci-fi. Classic.

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Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #17 on: December 11, 2007, 09:38:35 PM »
Ok...so to completely de-rail this discussion,

I have very rarely in my life been able to get into reading fiction...strange seeing as I was a complete sc-fi nut as a kid (starwars, star Trek, Dr who), but never got into the deep world of sc-fi fiction.

To this day I have never read the Lord of the Rings or Narnia trilogies or lovecraft ect.

What I am really into and cannot get enough of is non-fiction, especially biographies, usually musicians and famous artists.

I don't know why but I am insanely compelled to dig into their lives and find out the eternal "why" and "how" they did what they did.

Some great recient and favorite reads:

Chronicles Volume One by Bob Dylan
John, Paul, George, Ringo and Me by Tony Barrow
Wonderful Tonight by Pattie Boyde
Staying Up Much Too Late (Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and the Dark Side of the American Psyche) by Gordon Theisen
The Beatles by Bob Spitz
The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel

And the autobiography of Eric Clapton was one of the best reads I have read in a long time!

and I am just about to start Diane Arbus by Patricia Bosworth

Sooo any non-fiction readers in the crowd ???
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Re: Now reading
« Reply #18 on: December 12, 2007, 12:52:44 AM »
Hey Paul,

I'm a non-fiction reader, too!  Recently, I've been enjoying Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "The Black Swan," a really eye-opening book about uncertainty and dealing with high-impact but unpredictable events, both positive and negative.  Very entertaining--one of the more enjoyable reads I've had in a long time.  I became interested in this book because of Taleb's discussion of fractals.  I'm about midway through Oliver Sachs' "Musicophilia," which has some interesting things to say about perfect pitch and synesthesia, among other things, but is little bit fragmented for my taste.

Forrest

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Re: Now reading
« Reply #19 on: December 12, 2007, 03:39:10 PM »
I've known "historical bio only" readers before.  Though I enjoy non-fiction from time to time, to me the inability to enjoy fiction is sort of like color-blindness -- when I hear about it, I feel like saying "You poor soul!" and yet the color-blind person always shrugs and says "That's just how things have always looked to me."  They don't know what the fuss is all about.

I'm nearly always reading something fiction and some thing non-fiction, but the difference between them is immense.  I've enjoyed plenty of non-fiction books but very rarely have I felt enraptured and overwhelmed by the beauty of something non-fiction.
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