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Books We Are Reading 2019 [merged]


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Eric Barnes - The City Where We Once Lived-A reporter with a terrible secret narrates the tale of city, ravaged by climate change and environmental collapse, divided into the still prosperous South Side and the heavily damaged North Side. The South Side is noisy and vibrant, the North quite and hurting, as its denizens try to eke
out a living among the ruins.

Lovely read, delicately written and finely crafted, and hugely understated. Very insightful into the nature of grief and healing, and aware that "redemption" is an ongoing process, and may never be "completed." Highly recommended.
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I am invincible?
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Finished The Unbound Empire, the third of Melissa Caruso's fantasy series. It was a good ending. A diversion in the first third seemed a bit unnecessary but otherwise strong plot and good character arcs. Plus the villain is despicable, so good to see that he gets what is coming.


Diligent Procrastinator
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A Talent for War, by Jack McDevitt. This ought not to work, but it does. It's an adventure novel about modern-day characters pursuing a historical mystery that might lead them to a find of massive cultural significance...except that the "modern-day" is a made-up space-faring future, and the historical background is only slightly less far into the future.

McDevitt does a great job of giving his invented history a feeling of the weight that real history has: the present day of the story is living in the physical and mental landscape that has been defined by the past. The parallels with the relationship between the American War of Independence and the modern USA are obvious, but he adds extra layers with Persian Wars comparisons, and an alien race that feels appropriately alien. The plot is so well-paced with parceled-out revelations that it doesn't feel slow, despite the main characters basically just going between libraries and interviews until the action ratchets up in the last third of the book.


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by Paul Levitz , Gerry Conway, and Joe Staton collects the last issues of this comic before the Legion gets its own book and Superboy flies solo again. The Earthwar saga is a precursor to future LSH greatness penned by Levitz and is a definite required LSH read. The other stories here are competent in both story and art but not compelling material unless you are a LSH fan (I am). The great diversity of the LSH in terms of power is showcased here but personalities are a tad light. Note :the last few pages of the final S+LSH story did bring a small tear to my eye.


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A Military History Of The Western World, Vol. III: From The American Civil War To The End Of World War II by J.F.C. Fuller
This third and last volume of his military history presents few commanders for whom Fuller seems to have much regard. Robert E Lee cops a shellacking in the opening chapters, and about the only person involved with WW2 who he admits showed any strategic judgement is Stalin (though I guess doing otherwise would have undermined flow of his "Beware the Communist Menace!" sermon).

There are some interesting insights here, but you will have to wade through some very outdated attitudes and assumptions to find them.

Shay Guy

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Last weekend, between two flights and Shabbat, I managed to read through basically the entirety of Elantris. It does show signs of being an early work -- it throws a lot of names at you early on, though I suppose it's hard to get around some of that given how intrinsically this is a story about magic words and magic writing. (Not that I'm entirely sure it makes sense that the plot was solved by drawing a single line, given that Aon Rao is made from two copies of Aon Aon.) And I'm not 100% sure how I feel about some of the subplots, like the whole thing about charity sapping people's drive to work -- yeah, there were unusual circumstances in the story that keep it from being framed as a universal rule of psychology, but still. Plus it's a tad unsatisfying that we still understand so much less about this world than we did about Scadrial at the end of the Mistborn trilogy. (Were there more direct connections with The Final Empire that I missed other than Hoid? I remember reading that people figured out the shared universe just from those two books.)

That said, it ended up hooking me pretty strongly, supplying plenty of what I've grown to like about Sanderson -- the popcorn-movie action, the struggles to unravel magical complexities, the characters with various internal struggles on top of the grander plot, the twists that make way too much sense in retrospect (I'm still not over Vin's earring), and the highly resonant thematic pattern that seems to practically define the Cosmere at this point, right down to what I've read about the metaplot: The world is broken, and everyone in it has to figure out how to deal with that fact, and figure out if it's possible to put it back together differently.

Put differently: The Cosmere is a broken universe littered with broken worlds filled with broken people. What are those people going to do about it?

Some more thoughts:
  • Between the prologue and the first chapters for each lead, we have four opening lines that range from "pretty damn good" to "great":
    "Elantris was beautiful, once."
    "Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity."
    "Sarene stepped off of the ship to discover that she was a widow."
    "None of Arelon's people greeted their savior when he arrived."​
  • I'm sure I missed a bunch of significance with the Aons at the beginning of each chapter. The first cycle is "Aon", because of course it's first... then come "Edo" (protection) and "Shao" (transformation)? :/
  • The regularly rotating POVs provide fertile ground for dramatic irony -- it's great fun to watch some pretty smart cookies come to conclusions that are perfectly sensible and 100% wrong.
  • There's a disturbing amount of modern resonance in the well-spoken, politically ambitious religious man who thinks he can control the bigoted demagogue. And in general, I love that the most ~logical and rational~ lead is the one who screws up big time, over and over.
  • I can't be the only one who thinks Sarene and Shallan would get along, can I? And given that the first draft of TWOK predates Elantris, I suspect some traits were consciously reused.
  • The last line of the epilogue might be a little too self-consciously clever for my liking.

In other news, I'm not getting back to Galactic Patrol just yet, because Cryoburn came in at the library! Complete with the CD-ROM at the back, unopened -- I'm wondering if I'd get in trouble with the library for breaking the seal and copying an ISO for my own purposes. (Or if there's even a point, with the contents floating around online.) I think I'm... eleven chapters in? It's been interesting to see a setting where working cryonics is an established thing intersect with real-world "hey, as far as you know, maybe someday we'll be able to revive you!" pie-in-the-sky businesses.

I'm a little amused to see Bujold doing the thing where Western writers, creating Japanese characters, go for the most boring and generic surnames there are, far more than Japanese writers tend to unless they actually want to convey "boring name". (Jiro Yamada in Nadesico, the neighbors in Excel Saga, Nanami's suitors in Utena.) To the point I was thinking "Sato, Tanaka... all we need is a 'Suzuki'. [LITERALLY LIKE ONE PAGE LATER] Oh hey, there's one!"

Void Elemental

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Taking a break from Expanse stuff to check out some Max Gladstone stuff. Saw some talk about the Craft books here, so I started in on that. Not sure what I was expecting, but all this magic legal stuff was not it.


Scratch Monkey
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In other news, I'm not getting back to Galactic Patrol just yet, because Cryoburn came in at the library! Complete with the CD-ROM at the back, unopened -- I'm wondering if I'd get in trouble with the library for breaking the seal and copying an ISO for my own purposes. (Or if there's even a point, with the contents floating around online.)
If the library didn't want you to have access to the CD, they wouldn't have left it in the book.

The Cryoburn CD is actually somewhat controversial and (slightly) harder to find online than the other Baen CDs, because while Bujold signed off on including the CD in the book, she evidently didn't understand how liberal the attached license was ("This disk and its contents may be copied and shared, but NOT sold. All commercial rights are reserved. That’s it.") She was very unhappy when she found out that the contents were available online, and per Bujold's request (conveyed via Baen) some sites stopped sharing it.

(This doesn't change anything about the legality of copying the CD, but is an interesting story.)


I am invincible?
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Gods of Jade and Shadow is tremendously evocative and weird so far. It benefits from my having recently listened to the Revolutions podcast series on the Mexican Revolution - I can recognise references to the Hacienda system, the Porfiriato, revolutionary anticlericalism, the occupation of Veracruz and similar.
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