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2020 50 Book Challenge

FlyingMonkey

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Have you read "Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words", by Jay Rubin?

I found it interesting - it discusses Murakami's style, the difficulty of translating, deciding what to omit and what to include, plus some anecdotes about Murakami, too.
I haven't. I went off Murakami some time ago, and (apart from the article above) haven't particularly wanted to read things by him or about him.
 

Geoffrey Firmin

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48. Time Out Of Joint by Phillip.K.Dick
Conspiracy theories. Freudian paranoia. Small town America in the 1950’s mash up to provide IMHO one of Dick’s best science fiction novels. Marvelous to see what LSD and JS Bach can do for the mind.

Find it odd that this was never turned into a movie considering the mania that surrounded Dick’s work at one stage in the Dream Factory. Better still the edition I read was a 1976 Penguin Science Fiction edition still in excellent physical condition.
 

FlyingMonkey

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Another info-dump from me, because I haven't been updating regularly:

Way back when, I continued with Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series

52. Johnny Alucard (work it out, it's not hard) starts in Eastern Europe, but takes place mostly in the USA in the 1970s (New York) and 80s (LA). It is centred on a new 'Dracula', the eponymous cypher, Johnny Alucard, who goes from being a gopher on Francis Ford Coppola's epic and troubled version of the Dracula story (Apocalypse Now with vampires) to being a protegé of Andy Warhol (there's a brilliant and quite moving twist in this part) to finally emerging as a producer and studio executive in Hollywood. It's a vicious and encyclopedic satire of American film and media culture over this most self-obsessed period (the vampire version of Top Gun is hilarious), but it's too big and too unwieldy, too clever and just too much. But then maybe that's the USA.

53. Daikaiju is set at the turn of the millenium in Tokyo. We see most of our favourite characters come together as the walls around Tokyo's monster ghetto, Yokai Town, are due to come down, and the ghosts, demons and vampires allowed to reintegrate with the rest of society again. But of course, some people have other plans, notably the most powerful of the British vampires, who only briefly appeared in the first book in the sequence. Daikaiju does actually have a direct prequel set at that same time in the late Nineteenth Century... I hadn't read it at this point, but I did next...

54. One Thousand Monsters is about how a party of sea-going vampires escape from Dracula's terrifying rule over Britain in the late 1890s and pitch up in Japan amongst the traditional Japanese monsters, the Yokai, many of whom are stranger, and more terrifying than the vampires. It's a great deal of fun, especially if you know anything about traditional Japanese monsters and ghosts. If you don't I recommed this online guide: http://yokai.com/

I then read a couple of Newman's short-story collections, none of which (except for one) are set in the Anno Dracula universe, but many of which feature some of the same characters, who exist in both vampire and non-vampire forms in Newman's different worlds.

55. Anno Dracula 1899 and Other Stories contains lots of Newman's postmodern monster stories, alternate takes on famous movie monsters, and several of them are very good and quite funny. It also has the opening chapter of One Thousand Monsters, which is the only reason for the title, and is basically marketing.

55. The Man from the Diogenes Club, is a whole collection of stories featuring Newman's groovy, damaged Romani psychic detective, Richard Jepperson, and various mini-skirted and skinheaded sidekicks. They are hard to describe but imagine The X-Files made for British TV in the 1970s with an extra dash of Austin Powers and a touch of Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius. It somehow all works and at times can be quite serious, especially as Jepperson ages over time. But they still remain enjoyable.

I then moved entirely away from Newman.

56. The Empire of Gold by SA Chakraborty. Somewhat weaker conclusion to a generally strong fantasy trilogy with a big dose of a rather annoying 'will they. won't they?' romance set largely in the world of the djinn.

57. Or What You Will by Jo Walton. When she's at her best, Jo Walton is one of my favourite writers around. This isn't her best, but it's certainly inventive. It's more like clippings from the reseach done for her last novel, Lent, stitched together with a metafictional plot about the characters of a novelists' book being expresssions of one underlying personality that wants to get out of these books and live a 'real' life.

58 Lifelode by Jo Walton. An earlier work that hadn't been available in e-book form until now, this is a gentle and emotionally rich rural fantasy centred on relationships and based in a world which has a west-east gradient between science and magic, so the further east you travel the more magic works and gods can affect life and the more west you go, the more that rationality, research and science rule. The novel is set in the Marches in between, where magic is everpresent but small and travellers from either side of the world pass through.

59. There Will be Time by Poul Anderson. Late period novel from the science fiction master, part of whole series of works exploring his future history of an earth after the collapse of industrial civilization. Long, rambling and interesting in parts, but hardly essential.

60. The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. I bought this after reading the GQ article about the Maine hermit, a man who abandoned his life to live in the woods on his own and survived by petty thievery. Frankly, the book doesn't add a whole lot more and the subject isn't really very interesting, although his combination of camouflage and survival not far from civilization was ingenious.

61. Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami. Excellent 2-part novel by this Japanese feminist writer, focusing initially on a trio of women: two sisters and the daughter of one of them. One sister is an ageing bar hostess and wants breast implants. The other wants a child but hates the idea of sex. It's probably the best recent novel I've read from Japan and the writing is very strong and individual.

More later...
 
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FlyingMonkey

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Info-dump (continued)...

62. Retreat by Matthew Ingram - an account of the rise of the relationship between the 60s counterculture and wellness, and how this continues to shape social perceptions of health, wellbeing and sprituality. There is a lot of material brought together here and Ingram is a sympathetic but also critical (sometimes, very critical - especially about some of the western Buddhist teachers of the 60s and 70s) observer and participant, but the book isn't quite as good as it could have been because of the sometimes disjointed short chapter format where one thing just follows another.

63. Repo Virtual by Corey J. White. I was recommended this after I said on Twitter that cyberpunk was long dead, as the best example of current cyberpunk writing. It's a good enough near-future tale set in Korea's model smart city, Song-do, but as a researcher in this area, it was all too obvious to me what the author had been reading, even down to specific articles and it lacks the cool of early Gibson or the politics of Stirling. The plot, featuring a virtual heist and an emergent AI, is almost a complete rip-off of Neuromancer with a dash of Robert J Sawyer's WWW Trilogy thrown in for good measure. And while it's great to see queer and trans characters to the fore, you can't help thinking that they appear to be written in a way that only a cis-het white guy could write them. Not the future of cyberpunk then.

64. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B DuBois. Growing up in the British education system, I never came across this and I thought it was a about time. I've read DuBois's sociology but never this. It must have been like a hand grenade thrown into white supremacist thinking at the time it was published and I'd have to say that for all its stilted and dated language it is still essential reading. For anybody.

65. Sister by Kjell Ola Dahl. I'm a big fan of 'the godfather of Nordic Noir', but this latest in his Oslo Detectives series is not the best. The biggest problem is that one of his regular duo, Frølich, was forced out of the police at the end of the last novel and now works as a private detective. This novel is almost entirely from his perspective, and we therefore get nothing of the interplay between characters or the internal police politics or indeed the really fascinating young female detective who seemed to be moving into a starring role in the last book. The plot relies on too many improbably coincidences and synchronicities: Frølich's new girlfriend's best-friend just happens to work at the same refugee centre which is the object of the detective's inquiry, and just happens to be related to another key suspect, Frølich just happens to be there to discover bodies and so on etc. etc. It's a shame because there was another potentially stronger story here, but it's still enjoyably mired in the contemporary European politics of race, immigration and corruption.

66. A Man by Keiichiro Hirano. Another excellent contemporary Japanese novel, although this one not written by a woman. This one centres on a lawyer who is asked to investigate the case of a recently deceased man who turns out not to have been the person his wife and family believed him to be. This opens up threads at once criminal, political and philosophical as the lawyer starts to question his own decisions and life choices. Highly recommended.

I've also read a load of Japanese novellas, which I am not counting to my total because they are quite a lot shorter in most cases, than the average novel. But I'll list them here - they are all recommended!

Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami
The End of the Moment We Had by Toshiki Okada
Record of a Night to Brief by Hiromi Kawakami
(this surrealist early work is nothing like her novels!)
Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa
Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki
 
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Journeyman

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Another excellent contemporary Japanese novel,
FM, have you read any Miyabe Miyuki?

I've read a few of her works, although not that many are available in translation and unfortunately my kanji is now too rusty and it would take me too long (and I don't have the patience) to read them in Japanese.

"A Man" reminds me a bit of "火車" (or "All She Was Worth") by Miyabe. Highly recommended, if you can find a copy.
 

FlyingMonkey

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FM, have you read any Miyabe Miyuki?

I've read a few of her works, although not that many are available in translation and unfortunately my kanji is now too rusty and it would take me too long (and I don't have the patience) to read them in Japanese.

"A Man" reminds me a bit of "火車" (or "All She Was Worth") by Miyabe. Highly recommended, if you can find a copy.
I haven't and I will look her up. Thanks!
 

Marc Voorhees

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So my wife got me some more of those sci-fi books. I have enjoyed the hell out of this trip back down memory lane

33. * House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski - Not really sure what this is. Crazy perhaps. I can't say too much about this book, it takes a lont to read it. I enjoy the split story aspect for sure. Did I enjoy this as much as when I was in high school/college/ No. Did I regret re-reading it? No. Would I recommend it to any of you? No. Will I read it again some time? Yes. If you enjoy Pseudo academic writing , this book is for you. There are entire websites dedicated to aspects of this book, it is mostly above my head from a messaging aspect, but I enjoy the story nevertheless. As a note, this book was not part of the sci-fi reading binge, I just finally finished this book inbetween reading others
34. * The Escape - Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch - Sci-fi Another Voyager one, no major canon mistakes which is nice, and a pretty riveting story all in all. Time travel and Inter dimensional stuff. Always exciting
35. * The Murdered Sun - Christie Golden - Sci-fi another Voyager one. This is one that I would recommend as a quick sci fi read. Kind of fun, fast paced, if you know Star Trek it is a bit formulaic, but with a TWIST! All in all, this is a fun one quick and enjoyable, ancient cultures and archaeology (Which always makes is better to me)
36. * Strike Zone - Peter David - Sci Fi This is an old Next generation book, BUT it is written by a real heavyweight. Peter has written like 100 novels and an equal number of comic books. He is a god author and I think this might be his first Start trek novel, it stands alone. You need to know very little of star trek besides a passing knowledge of names.If you renamed everything, it is a pretty solid sci-fi book on its own. If you like Sci fi that isn't too hard or crazy, I would suggest Peter David as an overall author!
 

FlyingMonkey

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33. * House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski - Not really sure what this is. Crazy perhaps. I can't say too much about this book, it takes a lont to read it. I enjoy the split story aspect for sure. Did I enjoy this as much as when I was in high school/college/ No. Did I regret re-reading it? No. Would I recommend it to any of you? No. Will I read it again some time? Yes. If you enjoy Pseudo academic writing , this book is for you. There are entire websites dedicated to aspects of this book, it is mostly above my head from a messaging aspect, but I enjoy the story nevertheless. As a note, this book was not part of the sci-fi reading binge, I just finally finished this book inbetween reading others
Ah, House of Leaves. Been a few years. It's certainly something. He's been writing a new thing over recent years, which I think has a book for every letter of the alphabet or something like that. I haven't had the time to even think about reading that...
 

Marc Voorhees

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Ah, House of Leaves. Been a few years. It's certainly something. He's been writing a new thing over recent years, which I think has a book for every letter of the alphabet or something like that. I haven't had the time to even think about reading that...
I tried reading his second book, only revolutions or something, I just couldn't do it. I k ow it was acclaimed.. but... No thanks
 

samtalkstyle

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44. Ralph Lauren: In His Own Fashion - Alan Flusser

This was an excellent read. Flusser has done away with the needless verbosity of earlier works like Dressing the Man, making it much more enjoyable to read.
 

LonerMatt

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1. The Tangled Land
2. The Test
3. Grace of Kings
4. Wall of Storms
5. Where there was Still Love
6. The Secret Commonwealth
7. Children of Ruins
8. Hunger
9. Legacy of Ash
10. When we were Vikings
11. The Yellow Notebook
12. A Couple of Things Before the End
13. Agency
14. Sword of Fire
15. How to Fix the Future
16. The Topeka School
17. Beijing Payback
18. The Lucky Country
19. A horse walks into a bar
20. The Hidden Girl and Other Stories
21. The Secret Scripture
22. Stone Sky Gold Mountain
23. The Return
24. The Lost Decade
25. Shop Class as Soulcraft
26. Makers
27. Between the World and Me
28. How to do nothing
29. Amusing Ourselves to Death
30. The Bear
31. Eden
32. The Medium is the Massage
33. The Book of Koli
35. The End of Education
36. Exploded View
37. Quarterly Essay: Cry me a river
38. Water Knife
39. Dance Dance Dance
40. Norwegian Wood

40. Norwegian Wood


Still re-reading here in lockdown, libraries are shut :(.

Same opinion as Dance Dance Dance - I like the simple and honest protagonist, but why are the women so bizarre? One character (Midori) won't shut up, is petulant, likes porn, is always making weird suggestions. There's a lot of good stuff here but I'm finding Murakami not as charming as I did 5 years ago.

Not a bad read, but just something that's losing its magic.
 

Geoffrey Firmin

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49. The Dogs Of Riga by Henning Mankell

Previous books in this series which are well written in translation have been entertaining crime fiction. However this one while it started off well with a suitable problematic crime to be solved dissolved into the realm of incredulity when the narrative moved from Sweden to Latvia.

Back to Vinnie with this.
 

FlyingMonkey

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67. The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson. I've been torn about this fantasy series, of which this book is the third. On the one hand, it is superbly written, the world-building is strong, and the characters are memorable and well-drawn. On the other hand, it is relentlessly, gleefully and sadistically violent and unnecessarily long and drawn-out. And am I the only person who feels a bit uncomfortable with a white male author making so much of black lesbians? I suspect not. This third book, which one would normally expect to be the end in conventional fantasy sequences, is actually less overtly violent, but it feels even more stretched. A lot of what happens seems to happen for the sake of it, and the routine deception and backstabbing, torture and brutality of all of the characters, including or especially Baru herself, is often really tedious by this point, and by the time we finally get the centre of all this intrigue, treachery and violence, it's actually a bit flat and disappointing. The best bit about the book is the more gentle backstory of the characters from the Africa-equivalent continent. But it's really just an extension of the second book, and together they constitute that mid-trilogy meander, that will hopefully all be resolved in the promised fourth and final book.
 

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