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What are you reading?

Kaplan

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Thanks for the link. I just read it. Interesting enough idea but the writer doesn't seem to know what to do with it - or maybe there's more to it than I'm seeing?

I'll reciprocate with another short story recommendation. It seems more relevant than ever with the present warnings of lacking AI oversight. It's from 1967.

Read it just before bed.

And if fiction isn't chilling enough, there's this.
 
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am55

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Thanks for the link. I just read it. Interesting enough idea but the writer doesn't seem to know what to do with it - or maybe there's more to it than I'm seeing?

I'll reciprocate with another short story recommendation. It seems more relevant than ever with the present warnings of lacking AI oversight. It's from 1967.

Read it just before bed.

And if fiction isn't chilling enough, there's this.
This style of brief "mood" writing, without a well defined story arc, is a nice contrast from the Heinlein style classic age SF. In this particular case the author is making a more general social point - whilst exaggerated for effect, what he's saying applies perfectly well to the "underbelly" working class that powers a society without having the same rights as citizens, the latter justifying it because it is the status quo and the bad stuff happening outside their consciousness (vs Ellison and other AI dystopia writers who take a "whole humanity" approach).

The lack of story arc mirrors real life where even the most powerful characters eventually fizz away and yet life goes on, think Bismarck or Lee Kuan Yew. Conveniently disguised in the "ever after" of arced stories. Cf the quote "the past is another country", and the disconnect between grandad and the grandkids - each side alienated by the other's worldview, more so perhaps than between different but contemporaneous cultures.

The equivalent with a story arc might be Greg Egan's Permutation City, although Greg Egan is a hard read, even in that relatively approachable instance.
 

Kaplan

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Thanks. As for Greg Egan, from what I can gather his style is much harder SF than what I'm looking for (at least at this time).
 

am55

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I'd like to revisit your "based on comments from a couple of reviewers who I seem to agree with more often than not". Not by suggesting you do something, but merely sharing my worldview/method.

I decided at some point that my reading was too restricted, and I got myself stuck in an intellectual bubble, and perhaps one of taste. To get out of the bubble, I decided to be non-selective in my next books, or rather instead of reading books from my "network" (reviewers, friends, what the author recommends in the existing book, etc.) I'd optimise for two separate but related factors, what the elite recommends (e.g. Nobel winners, although that's really hard, or important authors according to Wikipedia, which can reflect the academic consensus) and what the public recommends through enormous historical sales. The goal was to "experience" these works in the purest sense, without preconceptions.

Sometimes in exploring the famous branch you find smaller branches stemming from it; it can pay off to linger in another bubble. I may, sometimes, specifically read one "side" against another, sides being defined by a third party rather than myself, sides being sometimes quite numerous, or on a spectrum with a few well defined modes. For example, Drieu la Rochelle and Celine were both enthusiastic and famous Nazi collaborators, albeit one accompanied (and wrote about) the retreat and the other shot himself rather than live with Hitler's (and fascism's) defeat. In reading both you discover two very different mindsets, different life experiences, and grasp the facets of the Nazi motivation, which I think Hannah Arendt got partially wrong by extrapolating from one of the ones who got caught.

Sometimes you read, you endure, and you find only emptiness below a convincing sleight of hand. I'm not going to name such authors, because I think this may be a different experience for everyone. But emptiness is valuable too, if only to understand the people of that era, a little like Orwell's titular aspidistra, omnipresent in Victorian homes. And as a small side branch on this side branch on side branches, upon doing a vertical of Orwell, including the essays, I found a strange mix of brilliance and directional emptiness, which he partially explained (I think) in his essays on Wodehouse and on his school experience: the second to describe the indoctrination into a greater ideal (without its specification) and the first to explain a stubborn if perhaps unconscious willingness to grow up and fill the blank.

I'm not going anywhere with this except to relate lived experience in case someone finds it of value.
 

Kaplan

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Interesting. I can see the value of going outside your comfort zone (or intellectual/taste bubble), but in a slight way I'm already doing this by going with recommendations and hitting the highest rated SF classics of the last 125 years or so; it definitely is giving me a rather diverse collection to pick from.

Granted, I'm still cherry picking based on personal taste, but what I'm not looking for is just more of the same, which is why long series don't appeal to me (I have no interest in Peter F Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga for instance) - I'm more looking for good singletons (ideally rather brisk) that tackles an interesting idea in one volume.

Having said that, I do try to remain open to recommendations from diverse sources...
 

am55

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The problem I found with the "classics" is the taste of John W. Campbell. And to some extent Heinlein dominates because he managed to both write stuff Campbell liked but also be relatively transgressive given his limited exposure to what was happening "outside the system" (e.g. civil rights movement) which gives his work a certain freshness. Perhaps people are shocked when they read something like the Strugatsky brothers, or Lem because it is so far out of Campbell's Overton window. The Heinlein fans today (including authors writing in their perception of his style) stay conspicuously quiet on the weirder stuff he wrote (such as the incest fantasies).
 
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Kaplan

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By 'classics' I'm also referring to later stuff like Neuromancer (but probably not a lot after the 1980s). Campbell might have had some problematic views (culminating with his fascination of dianetics), but he no doubt had a significant impact on the development of (English language) SF - by not only choosing which authors to publish but often by also directing what they wrote (Asimov's 1941 short story Nightfall - which about 50 years later was extended into a full length novel by Robert Silverberg - came from an idea by Cambell, IIRC) - and he did write the brilliant Who Goes There?

As for Heinlein, while Stranger in a Strange Land and Moon is a Hard Mattress seem to be his highest rated, I wasn't attracted to either based on their synopses so I chose Starship Troopers as my first one from him; I really did not care for it or the transparent way it's a vehicle for his politics (and as you probably know it was written in a few weeks in reaction to the US suspending nuclear tests).

But: as he is one of the Big Three (along with Clarke and Asimov) I do want to give him another go. And since I suspect I might enjoy some of his Golden Age output more, I'm awaiting delivery of Orphans of the Sky; which I'll follow up with Brian Aldiss' Non-Stop - another generation starship novel.

Regarding the Strugatskys, I manged to find Roadside Picnic on-line some years back, but have since bought it and am looking forward to re-reading it (in a rare example of not hating a movie tie-in edition: this one has a cover from the Tarkovsky film. And there's an even better edition recently released by the Folio Society, with illustrations by Dave McKean (who did art for the great Arkham Asylum graphic novel)). Will also add Hard to be a God eventually. And I have one more Lem on order.

For some (hopefully) weirder stuff, I have a new wave Moorcock and one Delany awating me on the shelf.
 

NakedYoga

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I'm about 100 pages into Blood Meridian. Interesting read, but I still don't know what to think. One thing is for sure--McCarthy takes grittiness to a new level.
 

mak1277

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I'm about 100 pages into Blood Meridian. Interesting read, but I still don't know what to think. One thing is for sure--McCarthy takes grittiness to a new level.

Keep grinding. I’ve tried to read it at least 4 times and I’ve never finished. And I like McCarthy.
 

NakedYoga

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Keep grinding. I’ve tried to read it at least 4 times and I’ve never finished. And I like McCarthy.
Oh, I'll finish it. But I'm still not sure what the overarching plot is, or whether there even is a plot to speak of.
 

Oswald Cornelius

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Oh, there's a plot. Don't poke around on the 'net too much because the climax is spoiled-- a lot. It always pisses me off when I see it---and I know what happens.
 

ValidusLA

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As for Heinlein, while Stranger in a Strange Land and Moon is a Hard Mattress seem to be his highest rated, I wasn't attracted to either based on their synopses so I chose Starship Troopers as my first one from him; I really did not care for it or the transparent way it's a vehicle for his politics (and as you probably know it was written in a few weeks in reaction to the US suspending nuclear tests).

But: as he is one of the Big Three (along with Clarke and Asimov) I do want to give him another go. And since I suspect I might enjoy some of his Golden Age output more, I'm awaiting delivery of Orphans of the Sky; which I'll follow up with Brian Aldiss' Non-Stop - another generation starship novel.

Can always try Time Enough for Love if you want to be prodded to think about incest.

Recently finished:
18jonathan-rosen-cover-facebookJumbo.jpg
Which just came out and has been getting rave reviews. I would be surprised by the roundly positive reviews given how condemnatory the book is of a number of political shibboleths, but the book is frankly just excellent.
 

am55

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Can always try Time Enough for Love if you want to be prodded to think about incest.
I read the "Da Capo" chapter before 9/11. Being French (where overt nationalism and militarism is suspicious, or was, anyway), living in the UK where the enlisted would sometimes hide their job from the public, and having been indocrinated with the reality of WWI as a primary schooler, not to mention the Verdun veteran in the family that refused to ever speak about it, it was fascinating and alien and definitely "the past is another country". Yanks were close enough to us - whilst signing up was definitely much higher regarded, Eastwood's "Heartbreak Ridge" captures that 1990s "end of history" forgotten culture.

Then the towers were hit, and the US culture turned in mere weeks into 1916 America as per Heinlein (think clapping passing F16s, not just "thank you for your service" and free fast food for the uniformed), and has yet to revert fully.

I think this would be one of the stories I'd pick to show Heinlein's strong analytical abilities and original writing, going way beyond the Space Cadet style Bildunsromans (that's worth reading, by the way, for the teenager explaining to her mother he'd nuke her if ordered - you don't find *that* in your typical "seinen" SF) he is more famous for.

Also think Starship Troopers is misunderstood, especially by Verhoeven (who to be fair represents the European sensibilities). The book is much more WWII in nature, with Rico's mother killed in a bug attack, and more realistic depictions of the psychology of a war time army. The film essentially takes the position that all wars are unjustified. The book argues that some things can only be resolved violently and with heavy sacrifice. The film could only be made and enjoyed by a generation that was at least one or two separated from the WWII and especially WWI generation, enjoying Pax Americana and thinking about the End of History, and remembering Vietnam. Anecdotally, I've observed a slow shift in mindset amongst continental Europeans as the Russians initially made inroads. I wouldn't be surprised to find the book resonates with modern Ukrainians.
 

Kaplan

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More new wave SF from the last five days. First two from the US:


Roger Zelazny: Lord Of Light, 1967.

"His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god, but then he never claimed not to be a god."

Best to read this without any information going in, as how the world works is only slowly revealed. (An unfilmed script based on this book was used in the 'Canadian Caper' by the CIA in 1979 as seen in Argo.)


Samuel R. Delany: Nova, 1968.

Delany was apparently influenced by Zelazny, though maybe not in this book specifically - this one feels more inspired by Alfred Bester's Stars My Destination (while Zelazny's above felt inspired by Vance's Dying Earth. Incidentally, while paging through the first few pages of Zelazny's Creatures of Light and Darkness using Amazon's 'look inside' feature, I saw that he had dedicated that book to Delany, so I guess the inspiration went both ways). Proto-cyberpunk, it even has a character named Mouse who jacks in to steer a spaceship.


And back to the UK:

Michael Moorcock: The Final Programme, 1968.

"It was a world ruled by the gun, the guitar and the needle, sexier than sex"

A proper psychedelic trip, this one doesn't feel like anything else I've read so far (though it does bring to mind the great 1967 tv series The Prisoner, the dvd set of which I've been rewatching over the last few months). This one was dedicated to Alfred Bester.


Of these three I preferred the first two, even though I read the last in one sitting.
 
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