Category Archives: books

Reading

As I have told a few friends, I’ve been spending time reading every day that I suppose was previously devoted to farting around aimlessly on the internet. I started this in April, and since then I’ve read 11 science fiction novels.

If you read 5% of a novel every day you will finish that novel in 20 days. I know that books vary in page counts (obviously) but that means for a 300 page novel, 15 pages a day will get you through that novel in 20 days. That’s pretty good.

So even if I only have 20 or 30 minutes to read it is worth the effort. Usually I get started and end up reading 10 or 15 percent, at least. Having the Kindle charged and ready and in my backpack during the workday is key.

Anyway I’m making a project of this, with the very modest goal of reading 20 SF novels this year. Tracking them on my Goodreads account.

Doing the unthinkable

Well, not really unthinkable. I’ve thought if it many times, and done it many times.

I am getting rid of most of my books. In fact, I just did it. Over the weekend I boxed up 90% of my books, and today at work I donated them to the library, which will sell them either in the book sale or via a vendor who sells our nonfiction donations for a good price and splits the money with the Friends of the library (so it eventually benefits the library, just like the in-building book sale does).

I had a lot of books sitting there, taking up space in my office, doing nothing. I kept a few books about skateboarding. I’m a skateboarder. They are inspiring to me and to some extent represent who I am. I’m not the other things.

It feels good to be rid of them.

Reading

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for reading. Sometimes life is like that. Things going on. Stressful things, and I am just so beat I can’t concentrate on a book. Still, gonna plan to knock out the short novel I’m currently reading this weekend and start another.

A while back I downloaded the audiobook of The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin. I listened to the first 30 minutes of this acclaimed novel and found it to be just unlistenable. Now, this is weird because a lot of people whose opinions I respect really love this novel and the series. I am aware of what it is about. Yes, I’ve watched a lot of videos on Quinn’s Ideas about it. Yet still I found it pretty horrible.

Over the last few nights I’ve given it another try.  I’m doing better with it.

I don’t know if I have ever read a novel translated from Mandarin before. I feel like there might be some translation issues I’m running into. Let’s face it, literary translation is a very hard discipline. I am friends with one of the foremost translators of Mexican literature into English, and we’ve talked about it, and it is as much an art as writing the novel in the first place.

The other possibility is that the novel, even in its original language, reads like a technical manual.

At any rate, I’m listening because while it “listens” kind of soulless, the ideas are huge and interesting and I like them.

Another thing: because the last “big series” I read was Hyperion and the Fall of Hyperion, the bar may be set pretty high. They were some of the best SF I’ve ever read, and wonderfully written.

Science Fiction Novels

As I may have written here before (I honestly can’t remember and don’t feel like looking) for the last several years I’ve been going back and reading science fiction novels from the 70s and 80s. Typically I’ve been reading standalone novels, not series.

Those novels tend to be a bit simpler in form. When I get off work I’m tired, and I don’t need a novel to be that much an intellectual effort to understand. Some of my favorite novels, like William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, require that you really immerse yourself in the novel. That’s great, but when I’m tired sometimes I just want the author to tell me what happened.

That being said, read the Sprawl trilogy.

I discovered Robert Silverberg in the Infinite Stars anthology of space opera. His tale “the Iron Star” was brilliant, and I became an instant fan. I’ve read three or four of his other novels since then. They are great stuff. The Iron Star offered an ethical conundrum, and I was just blown away.

I feel like as you go back through the decades the SF gets a bit more basic, and not as well written, but Silverberg is really good. I read a few H. Beam Piper novels (not the Little Fuzzy books), including the Cosmic Computer and the unfortunately-titled “Space Viking“.  They were fun reads, though every time I read the term Space Viking I rolled my eyes. Great fodder for my Traveller science fiction game campaign. It was funny knowing that Piper was an early libertarian going into these novels (thank you Wikipedia), and then seeing his political leanings in the novels.  I do like to read a bit about the authors I’m reading, and sorta know where they are coming from, and where the novels fall in their careers.

I mentioned Traveller. One of the primary influences on the Traveller RPG were the Dumarest of Terra novels, by English author E.C. Tubb. These are what I’d call “pulp” style SF adventures. Space Opera for sure. Short novels, formulaic in many respects. There are about 32 in the series, and I’m currently reading #17. Now, my intro to science fiction was Doc Savage. As a young teen I read about 70 of those. I have to say, while the Dumarest novels are not the most sophisticated SF you will find, Tubb can write a proper sentence. They are pretty well written, and they are fun. Now, they are novels of their time.  The hero, Earl Dumarest, is a typical hero of the era, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a female character of any real consequence. They all tend to be Earl’s love interest, which means they will be dead soon. Overall, I would say the novels exhibit the chauvinism of their time, but I’ve not seen them go into straight-up misogyny. Which is nice, because I’d stop reading them. Would they be better if there some female characters to be reckoned with? Yes. No doubt.

Which brings me to my most recent reads, Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. Not simple. Not short.

Now people love to go on and on about how great Dune is. I enjoy the Dune novels. They are deep and they are good. I enjoyed these two Hyperion novels more. If it means anything to you, these novels are Dune-level good.  They are deep and multilayered. There’s a lot going on. There’s stuff in them, and they were written in the late 80s/early 90s, that is way ahead of their time. They are long. Each is over 500 pages. I’m a slow reader, so that is a time investment for me. Totally worth it. Great stuff. After reading each one I listened to them on audio books to enhance the experience. So, so good.

I’ve got a good stack of books to read, and a good virtual stack on my Kindle. More later.

 

Toxicity

A few months ago we listened to this audiobook – The Man They Wanted Me To Be – by Jared Yates Sexton . It’s a memoir of Yates’ experience with his father and an examination of the role of toxic masculinity in his life and beyond. If you are a man reading this post and just thought “Toxic masculinity is a bullshit concept and everyone needs to just man-up and get on with things” then you probably need to read the book. The book is especially timely now, as the White House is currently occupied by one of the world’s greatest exemplars and advocates of toxic masculinity.

I’m not going to do a review of the book here,except to say it’s worth reading or hearing. Henry Rollins did this very solid article about it, so you can start reading it here.

What you should know going into the book, I think, is that it isn’t about scolding anyone for how they are. It’s about a man seeking to understand himself and the cultural norms that have been ingrained in him. It’s not a self-help book, but reading it might help you. Compared to a lot of men I feel like I got a light dose of this from my dad, and I’m lucky for that, but the truth is I still got it.

If you are a woman, reading it might help you understand the programming the men in your life have likely received.