Jump to content

What have you been reading recently?


Recommended Posts

Finished Towers of Midnight a few days ago. Twas a pretty good read, and finally Mat got around to visiting that... place.

 

Sadly, I have to put the series on hold for a while, since someone beat me to the last copy of A Memory of Light at the library. I would start rereading Terry Goodkind's series, the Sword of Truth series, but I don't want to end up forgetting anything that went on in Towers of Midnight.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 2.3k
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Posts

Based on the fact that this topic has over 1.5 million views, everyone's answer should be "What have you been reading recently?"

The topic is dead! Long live the topic!   —Alorael, who will throw in The Ringmaster's Daughter, a relatively normal and therefore still quite unusual novel by Jostein Gaarder. Unlike Sophie's Wor

It was in one of the introductions for a book. Part of the problem was he had a few children and was trying to save for their future educations.   The figure I've seen is that a basic paper back

I don't read alot of fantasy, but I'm reading the "Kingkiller Chronicles." I'm on book two. They are really good books, but at a certain point I realized, "Wait a minute, this is almost the exact same plot as Harry Potter." Not that I mind, as they are way better written than Harry Potter and they delve way more into the philosophy behind magic, which I think is cool. They are slightly more adult in that they acknowledge the existence of things like sex and rape, but (at least so far) I think they are tame enough that any age could read them.

 

But anyway they are really good. As far as books about adult magicians, I still like "Jonathan Norrel and Mr Strange" better (which doubles as the best Jane Austen novel that Austen never wrote, so it's hard to compete with it as it's so stylistically brilliant), but these are pretty good too since we'll probably never get a sequel to that.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, actually. And it's a great book.

 

—Alorael, who notes two critical differences between Harry Potter and Kingkiller. First, Kvothe is absolutely not Harry, and getting a first person narration from him makes the book very different even aside from the quasi-medieval setting, entirely different and more technical system of magic, the fact that it's based on grad school and not high school/college as much, the fact that the plot moves beyond school, or all the other myriad differences. THe second is the frame narrative. Harry Potter would be quite different if you got the narrative from an older, more bitter Harry living in anonymity and hiding from his past.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Silmarillion was the first book I ever took on that I wasn't equal to. After running out of challenges in 5th grade, I decided to tackle it in 6th- and found it dense and stilted beyond anything I'd been exposed to (not having been raised with religious texts). I ended up reading it in chunks, and found it digestible as such. In fact, I still recommend treating it that way.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I found the Silmarillion vastly more comprehensible on my second reading. With a general (albeit slightly fuzzy) grasp of the broad story in mind from my first attempt, it was much easier to start appreciating the book's intricacies and details instead of getting totally lost.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I find the Lost Tales stultifying and unreadable. Reading The Silmarillion is like reading a combination of the Bible and an epic. If you don't like Homer or Beowulf The Silmarillion won't appeal either; the biggest problem is coming off LotR and expecting a novel or something similar, which The Silmarillion most certainly isn't.

 

—Alorael, who also notes that the depth of history in The Silmarillion (and Tolkien in general) is sadly still unmatched. The only other fantasy that seems to even attempt it is The Second Apocalypse, which is entirely different in tone but does manage to encompass more than a current fallen age and a previous better time.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Second Apocalypse are my current favorite books.

 

Anyways, I read Heart of Darkness and Witch Watch recently, and am currently reading the newest Salvatore series. Heart of Darkness was wonderful, of course, and the last step in working back through Spec Ops: The Line's inspirational lineage. Witch Watch was a nice Victorian-era comedic fantasy written by one of favorite internet personae. And Salvatore is a guilty pleasure, but I grew up reading about Drizzt and will continue to do so until one of us dies.

Link to post
Share on other sites

—Alorael, who also notes that the depth of history in The Silmarillion (and Tolkien in general) is sadly still unmatched. The only other fantasy that seems to even attempt it is The Second Apocalypse, which is entirely different in tone but does manage to encompass more than a current fallen age and a previous better time.

 

The degree to which Tolkien devoted himself to creating an entire world, complete with several thousand years of history, lineages, languages, etc, is not something I would expect of any sane author. Yes, it creates depth and immersion on an unmatched level, but it also makes me want to go back in time and take John on a hike or something to get him out of the house for a while.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The degree to which Tolkien devoted himself to creating an entire world, complete with several thousand years of history, lineages, languages, etc, is not something I would expect of any sane author. Yes, it creates depth and immersion on an unmatched level, but it also makes me want to go back in time and take John on a hike or something to get him out of the house for a while.

 

well uh the last time he spent a lot of time outdoors it involved being laid low by illness half the time and getting shot at by people who wanted to kill him the other half

 

so you can see why he'd be more of an indoor person

Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't expect authors to go into the kind of depths that Tolkien did, but what bothers me most is depth of history. It's all too common for there to be one "generation" of nations, or maybe two. There was a great civilization in the past, and there are things as they are now. Compared to Earth, where empires often rise and fall in the span of a century or two, this is a very shallow kind of history. And then there's the stagnation in the arts, the complete lack of any kind of philosophy or history beyond the political, and it just rings false

 

R. Scott Bakker convincingly gives a sweep of history that includes all the chaos of our history. The fact that there is Near Antiquity and Far Antiquity says a lot. Kingdoms rise and fall, dynasties come and go, philosophers come, opine, and are embraced and then later discredited. It works better.

 

—Alorael, who has a kind of litmus test in trying to superimpose Egypt and Rome on fantasy history. If there's not room for two great civilizations that dominated their sections of the world, largely did not overlap, and had distinct cultures, it's too shallow for verisimilitude. That's not a fatal fault, of course, but he wishes more books would pass the test.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm a little curious how much one can get out of a 'civilian' biography of Einstein. The scientific one was pretty much nailed years ago by Abraham Pais, who both knew Einstein personally and was a theoretical physicist himself. Pais's Subtle Is the Lord focuses mostly on Einstein's physics, to the point of including lots of equations. But this seems to have been Einstein's own idea of what his life was really about.

 

It's actually a rather sad story, that way, because there was this tremendous burst of creativity at age 26, and then a tremendous ten-year struggle to re-imagine gravity, ending with Einstein's greatest success. For the entire second half of his life, though — he died in 1955 at age 75 — Einstein mainly failed. He certainly failed by his own standards. And he doesn't seem to have had much of a social or family life. He lived for physics, and physics basically dried up on him. I'm curious how much of this comes through in a less technical biography.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Actually I kind of hated Anathem. It's a huge fat book that can almost be summarized surprisingly briefly: The Glass Bead Game meets A Canticle for Leibowitz. That would be great, actually, except for the almost. The thing that summary misses is that there isn't actually much of a plot to the book, and what there is unravels into arbitrary quantum mumbo-jumbo at the end.

 

Stephenson should have waited with his setting and theme until he had a substantial enough idea for the plot. I was very disappointed.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've just picked up The Glass Bead Game (under the title of Magister Ludi. Maybe I'll fit in Anathem next for direct comparison.

 

—Alorael, who wouldn't really describe A Canticle for Leibowitz as having a much of a plot either. It has some short stories, which also don't rely heavily on plot. That style works if you can pull it off. It's just that not everyone can.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Glass Bead Game isn't exactly a plot-heavy book, either. It has one, but it feels a bit tacked on. Maybe it's just my taste, but I'm starting to think that "novel of ideas" is marketing spin for "novel of people standing around talking".

 

The thing I don't really get about any of these books is that they all feature academic settings, in which no-one does research. That's just weird. It has nothing to do with any actual academic setting that has existed for, oh, two hundred years or so. The idea of adding to knowledge, and not just preserving and appreciating it, has been the principal meta-idea of the modern age. Okay, you could imagine that being abandoned. But it's so clearly just a boring step backwards, it's hard to see how that can be a good idea for a book.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, the Kingkiller Chronicles do not have the same plot as Harry Potter unless you define "plot" differently from the rest of the world.

 

They do up until the middle of the second book....at which point they diverge slightly. Although, perhaps "premise" is a better word than "plot." Both are about an orphaned, chosen one, Wizard whose parents are killed by a great evil and who then goes to a school for wizardry populated by eccentric teachers and snobby bullies and participates in all manner of adventures while slowly gaining the skills to ultimately tackle the "great evil" who killed his parents.

 

I suspect "Kingkiller" will throw more than a few wrenches in the works and won't follow that formula as closely as Harry Potter did....but thus far (I'm like 3/4 of the way through book 2) they are pretty close in the broad strokes.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Was Kvothe some sort of prophesied Chosen One? I don't remember that part.

 

Seriously, the tone, characters, setting, writing style, and plot are so dissimilar beyond any but the broadest strokes that this comparison really doesn't mean anything.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I happened to read The Name of the Wind around the same time as I read Trudi Canavan's Magician series, and I'm pretty sure I'd fail a test about recognizing which episodes appeared in which books. Some of these broad strokes only seem broad, it seems to me, because Harry Potter made a rather narrow range of tropes seem like a roomy genre. Line the books up from the right angle, and the similarities are pretty striking.

 

I wouldn't call it a problem, though. I agree that the tone and style of the Kvothe books are very different from Harry Potter. Plus, of course, the sheer length of the Rowling series makes people focus on its general features. The Kingkiller Chronicles have no major plot similarities I can see with any of the individual Harry Potter volumes.

 

The Magic School genre seems to have sprung up rather quickly. I believe that A Wizard of Earthsea may have been the first, but I feel sure that I read a number of vaguely similar stories in my youth. Maybe this is all it is: write a fantasy story to appeal to schoolkids, and Magic School is an obvious choice. Tip your target audience a little older, and your School just gets a little more advanced.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Was Kvothe some sort of prophesied Chosen One? I don't remember that part.

 

Not a chosen one in a prophetic sense, but he's absurdly good at everything to near unbelievable degrees and, just like Harry Potter, everyone notices him and talks about him. He's not just a good student, but rather he masters everything and advances through the ranks faster than anyone. He doesn't just play the lute, he's the best lute player ever. Honestly, it gets a little silly at times. Just for once I wish they'd write one of these stories where the main character is a total screw up or just some average schmo. Kvothe isn't flawless, but he's enough of a savant to kind of stretch credulity at times.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Kvothe is an extreme case even by the standards of fantasy. The saving grace, if it does save, is that Kvothe's incredible ability is advertised clearly as the premise. This is the autobiography of a legendary demi-god; take it or leave it. Leaving a premise like that doesn't mean you don't like fiction.

 

Actually preferring a book about a total screw-up, though, only makes sense as a kind of reaction. Are there any books like that that I can think of? Maybe the Flashman series, in a way, though Flashman isn't exactly an incompetent, just a coward. He's no genius but he isn't an idiot, and he does have one or two talents to a high degree.

Link to post
Share on other sites

See, it's really not an exceptional ability that's the focus of his character. There are a number of things he's not very good at, or doesn't know how to do, or has difficulty learning, whatever. He's really good at some things, and he's generally clever and resourceful, but he's a legendary hero, not a demigod, and that is what defines him, more than being extremely powerful.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm still really disappointed that in the Harry Potter series Nevell didn't turn out to be the chosen one. Rowling made a point of mentioning that he fit the prophecies, so she could have easily gone in that direction....but nope. I know people would probably have freaked out and felt cheated, but I think that would have been way more interesting.

 

Also, I admittedly don't read much fantasy at all, but I thought "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel" handled this well, in that its main characters were just humans messing with stuff beyond their control. They weren't exceptionally talented, just your average academic sorts. "Jonathan Strange" is one of those books that's so good that I think it transcends its genre entirely, though. Like I said, it's one of the most successful imitations of Jane Austen ever, even apart from all the fantasy stuff.

 

But, yeah, I do think Kvothe has flaws (although, they aren't anything special or interesting, really, and could even be said to be the same as Harry Potter's basic flaws--i.e. too prone to anger, too eager, sometimes puts impulse in front of sense. I think he'd be a more interesting character if his flaws were more interesting). But I do suspect that the series has a few tricks up its sleeve yet that could buck this trend (since, obviously, he's anything but a super hero in the "Inn" portions of the narrative so he's most likely going to have a massive collapse/breakdown at some point)...but I often do sometimes feel like I'm reading fantasy James Bond.

 

Or maybe a better way of describing this is classic Jedi versus prequel Trilogy Jedi. In the original SW trilogy, Jedi was something anyone could do if they studied and worked diligently enough. Whereas in the prequels they introduce the idea of midichlorians and being a Jedi just becomes a fluke of your biology. Kvothe does put in the work to a degree, but he too often seems like more of a midichlorian Jedi rather than a classic Jedi. He just has a magical brain that can solve any problem and do anything for him so he ends up seeming like a superhero (to the stories credit, they actually do acknowledge this idea somewhat in the way they contrast the fantastical stories about Kvothe against his real life stories....but too often the leap between these two isn't far enough, I think). Whereas Mr Norrel and Jonathan Strange are classic Jedi, and the novel is all the better for it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I really liked the beginning of Strange and Norrel, but I was somehow disappointed as it went along. Where the beginning seemed both novel and inevitable, what followed seemed to grow more familiar and yet more arbitrary.

 

Kvothe's character flaws are not really his issue, but rather the question of whether his talents have any limitations. For what it's worth, though, high levels of talent in real life do seem to work like midichlorians, as well as like classic Jedi training. The thing is that levels of performance range so very widely. People who are really talented at something often seem, to people who aren't so blessed in that way, to do unbelievably difficult things with no effort at all. That doesn't mean that the talented people never make any effort. They may well work very hard, but what costs them that effort are achievements whose staggering difficulty won't even be recognized by people who are not in their league. One sometimes hears that high talent is really just a capacity for practicing harder. I don't think that's all it is. It's that, plus starting from six feet above the ground.

 

Kvothe's individual talents seem perfectly believable to me. Extraordinary talent is quite like that, I think. It's just that he is like that for so many different things.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Actually preferring a book about a total screw-up, though, only makes sense as a kind of reaction. Are there any books like that that I can think of?

 

Lev Grossman's The Magicians comes to mind. It's definitely a reaction to the magic-school genre, though. The main character is intelligent but psychologically screwed up and with no idea what to do with his life, and after going to a magical school he becomes a powerful wizard who's screwed up and has no idea what to do with his life.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Kvothe's omni-competence and general awesomeness bother me as well. To a degree it helps to think of it as his own boastfulness, since he's recounting his own story and he's obviously not averse to inflating his own reputation, but it's still a Mary Sue story. It's good enough that the super-protagonist doesn't drag everything down, but Kvothe is too good, and for too little reason. I cheered at the point where he gets his well-deserved beatdown by someone who simply exceeds him in power. I groaned when he went from best musician and best student in many disciplines to great fighter as well. No the best, but still ludicrously good. His saving grace is that, in hindsight, he's at least slightly rueful in acknowledging what an insufferable person he was.

 

A Wizard of Earthsea is about a young wizard in school, at least in large part, but it's also very different in tone and not really for young adults. (Also of note: central to the plot is a colossal screw-up by the protagonist, whose sin is yet again hubris.) It may have started the trend, but for my money the books that codified the ideas are the Young Wizards books by Diane Duane. They actually lack the school setting, but the young wizards with great roles to play in a modern setting is all there.

 

—Alorael, who thinks Aristotle was onto something lo these many years ago in his Poetics when he said that we prefer characters who are flawed but better than us. Most people don't want stories about screw-ups, except maybe as comedic butts of jokes. We want great but flawed people. Kvothe is probably close to that tragic hero's mold. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a series that isn't about wizards, and is more about a pseudo-Arthurian (or post-Arthurian) world with a scullion boy as the protagonist. Yes, he's a callow youth and a bit of a goofball, but where it shines in my opinion is again having huge mistakes central to the plot without making characters look like idiots for making them. It's actually relatively rare, in my experience, for a mistake to have big warning signs in retrospect but not make characters look exceptionally foolish for missing them in the course of their actions.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Kvothe is too good ... for too little reason.

I think this is an insight. Kvothe is annoying because there's no clear reason for him to be so awesome. The 'legendary hero' thing doesn't quite do the job, because it's not really an explanation, just a confirmation. If the premise were instead that he was literally a demi-god, or even just bitten by a radioactive groundhog or something, then it seems to me that he'd be a lot less annoying. And in fact I think he'd actually be more interesting, because then there'd probably be more reflection and reaction from him about how different he is from everybody else.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...