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What have you been reading recently?


Emmisary of Immanence
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I have recently been on a Stephen King kick and re-reading all my favorites (which is all of them, give or take a few).

 

Though, I have just today picked up Watchmen from my shelf and determined that I am going to re-read it in preparation for the movie release in two weeks (thus interrupting my re-reading of Salem's Lot, but oh well).

 

Yes, I will be one of those rabid fans at the movie release which shouts at the screen "But that didn't happen in the book!" tongue

 

(Just kidding, I don't talk during movies, that would be rude smile )

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Dintiradan, check out my photobucket album to see a whole bunch of 80x80 (for here) and 100x100 (for Shadowvale) watchmen icons, feel free to use another one if you want. I plan on changing my avatar to various watchmen-related ones during the next two weeks.

 

http://s174.photobucket.com/albums/w90/tobylinn/

 

Actually it was your current smiley face that made me think of watchmen, I didn't think it had gotten so close! Though your missing the blood/ketchup dash. tongue

 

Click to reveal..
I don't like the fact they're taking out the mechanical squid, wasn't the whole point of Veidt's exercise to make earth think they were attacked by outside sources, i.e. aliens so that they would work together and end the cold war. I wonder what they will use instead, I haven't been looking at spoiler sites.

 

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Just went to the library and picked up a whole bunch of new books. Glasshouse by Charles Stross absolutely blew me out of the water. It's about people several centuries from now engaging in a reenactment of present-day American society, with one of them regretting her agreement to participate and trying to sabotage the program. Also read Blood Music by Greg Bear, but I thought it was more twisted than interesting.

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Just finished the fourth and last book of Gregory Keyes's latest series, The Born Queen. Hmmm. It was worth reading if you've read this far, to see how it all ends. But it was disappointing. Things that make a big difference to the final resolution are introduced rather suddenly in this fourth volume, while major themes and villains that have spanned the whole series get wrapped up abruptly. And on the other hand there are some pretty dramatic flashes and bangs that look like shocking plot twists, but turn out not to matter at all.

 

On the other hand I also just finished Airborn and Skybreaker, by Kenneth Oppel. Now I have to find the third volume, Starclimber. Perhaps the best thing to say about these is that their titles are actually honest: this is the world of zeppelins. The second volume is all about the special difficulties in flying airships to really high altitudes. And the third seems to be about a space elevator.

 

Overall flavour is Young Adult steampunk — it's one of those late Victorian alternate histories. But it's a good example of the narrow little borderline genre between sci-fi and fantasy — alternate physics. A wonderful new gaseous element is postulated which is not as flammable as hydrogen, but has lifting power that (whether the author realizes it or not) amounts to anti-gravity, even anti-inertia. So huge airships circle the world.

 

I like these books very much, and I think maybe it's not a coincidence that they are in the YA section. What makes them YA is obviously that the main characters are teens, there's romance but no sex, there's violence but nothing graphic. Graphic sex and violence are neither obstacles nor goals for me, and teenagers are no worse as characters than cyborgs or demons or whatever. But the other thing that I think keeps these books in the YA section is that they have no Grim Weltanschauung of Doom. They are not all about how ghastly the true fabric of reality is, or how everyone is really a sadist, or anything like that.

 

Now, on the whole I think that reality is bad enough as it is, and fiction should do a bit more dulcis et utile. Still I can cope fine with Grim in the service of a good story. Macbeth is not a happy guy. But I've been disappointed lately with a lot of adult sci-fi and fantasy that relies on big smears of grim to spackle over plot holes and paper-thin characters, because anything ugly enough is considered intrinsically credible. Not all grim authors are lazy, but lazy authors can do well these days by going grim.

 

So Oppel is a nice antidote to that. His plots do lean occasionally on the higher tolerance for coincidence of his YA genre, but even when they do, at least it's honest coincidence, and I haven't really noticed anything yet that goes beyond what you can rationalize by considering that only characters with a certain amount of luck are going to live to tell about their adventures. And mostly the plotting and characterization are actually pretty tight. Things happen for reasonable reasons, and most of the characters are pretty rounded and believable.

 

And so far Oppel hasn't dropped the ball on the huge potential for coolness of his zeppelin-world. Imagine a salvage operation on a mad genius's fabled lost ghostship — 20,000 feet above Antarctica. It's cold. You need oxygen. There are booby-traps. Don't fall off.

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I finished reading The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling. It is a near future science fiction novel set around 2060 set in a world gone mad with climate change, pollution, refugees, brush fire wars, and out of control technology. The central characters are four cloned women. The book came out on February 24, 2009.

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Found a five-volume fantasy series called "Winds of the Forelands" in a corner of a library I don't often go to. I'm on book 4, and so far, I'm quite impressed, if only because everyone listed in the six pages of "major characters" has a distinct personality and role in the storyline. I also have to give the author credit for not using cardboard-cutout villains--the lead bad guy is a bit overdone, but all his henchmen have a motive and a reason for sympathy. I spent all Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday morning reading these books when I was supposed to be doing homework blush.

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Just finished reading Artemis Fowl - the Lost Colony. Still not done with the New Testament though. I also had to plow trough bits of General service manual - good grief that thing is boring! I find it a bit surprising that I manage to read this much despite having very limited free time. On this day alone, I've gone trough more than 400 pages of written text.

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Thanks to instantly downloadable e-books for the last stretch, I have now finished Lois McMaster Bujold's 'Sharing Knife' tetralogy. I really like it, though some other of her long-time fans seem to have been outraged. It is quite a departure from her previous style — or more accurately, I would say, a long step taken in a direction in which she had anyway been moving gradually for a long time.

 

For the majority of each book there are no threats or dangers beyond those of ordinary life. If you imagined a series about doctors fighting occasional nasty disease outbreaks, while one of them slowly develops a strategy for dealing with drug resistance, you'd have a fair idea of the feel of the overall plot. In these books it's magical monsters instead of nasty diseases. But despite a good deal of magic, I find these books are more realistic than most fantasy.

 

Since in fantasy the basic conflicts are all defined by made-up rules, a lot of fantasy suffers from a basic problem. To raise tension, the threat is defined to be enormous and imminent (Sauron's irresistable armies are about to overrun the world). To let the handful of heroes save the world, the solution is defined to be fundamentally easy (drop the ring in the volcano). To spin the story out to three volumes, smoke and mirrors somehow keep the heroes from doing that simple thing until the last chapter. (Since Gandalf's pet giant eagles can carry hobbits, it might seem to have been a better plan to dive bomb the Ring into Mount Doom on page 36, and cut straight to happily ever after; but Look! An Elf!)

 

The problem is that not even willing suspension of disbelief can make smoke and mirrors completely grip the reader. Humans recognize serious problem-solving instinctively. So subconsciously the reader knows when it's all an act, and reacts accordingly. That's why fantasy gets despised as light literature. It's soft in the middle.

 

This latest series by Bujold still has a lot of made-up rules, all right; it's still fantasy. But the threat is not so enormous and urgent, and the solutions are not so easy and total. So there isn't nearly as much smoke and mirrors as usual; it's mostly a lot of immediately believable actions and immediately believable consequences. For instance in one book there's a confrontation with a heavily built-up bad guy that I was expecting would stretch out for many pages, in accordance with the usual rules of fantasy plotting. It ends decisively in about three lines, because the hero immediately does dive bomb the Ring (as it were). And I found I took a lot more interest in the calm but serious aftermath of this three-line event than I would have in the artificially drawn-out confrontation I was expecting.

 

So they may not be for everyone, but if you're an old and jaded fantasy fan, you might really like these books.

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I just finished reading Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. It's one of those books that people have been telling me to read for years because it's really good. Well, I finally got around to it, and I have to say, it definitely lived up to the hype. I'm looking forward to reading Speaker for the Dead now.

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It's very hard to explain. Basically, the most interesting thing I've learned so far is that an experiment was carried out where they shot electrons at a wall with two slits in it, and the electrons broke into two separate waves, went through both holes at the same time, and reconnected on the other side. No one knows why; they just accept it.

 

Also: all molecules are particles AND waves at the same time until you measure which one. It's like a cat who is inside of a box that you can't look into. It is both dead and alive until you open the box to check.

tongue

Bet you didn't expect an answer.

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I remember I got a bit of quantum mechanics, in a cartoonish sort of way, in grade 13, back when the province of Ontario had a grade 13. I don't know whether anyplace tries to squeeze it into high school now or not. One normally doesn't learn QM properly until third or fourth year of college, and the advanced parts wait until grad school. So sixth grade may be pushing it a bit.

 

There are some bits of quantum mechanics you could learn early. Just don't get too excited about forming some philosophical interpretation of it, because that stuff is generally nonsense. Essentially, if you start to feel it makes sense, that means you're getting confused.

 

If you want to get a jump on physics, you might be better off concentrating on classical physics. General relativity is about as cool, but easier, I think. And electromagnetism is not only cool, but practical. You can make gadgets that run by invisible force fields. How cool is that?

 

 

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While I applaud your efforts to learn about QM, you are probably reading popularized works that present oversimplifications that anyone can grasp at a basic level. Do not confuse understanding these oversimplifications with any real understanding of QM.

 

Don't worry, I tried around your age as well. Today, I'm aware the more I know about this kind of stuff, the more I realize how little I know.

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The two-slit interference experiment is replicated constantly and in many forms, and has been for several decades now. Some undergraduate lab courses do it. So it's not something that was just done once; it's established fact. It can work with electrons, or with anything else, though to date the largest particle in which two-slit interference has been observed is a C60 molecule (a 'buckyball'). The particles certainly do NOT, however, split in half and reconnect. There is never at any time any probability for half an electron to be anywhere. At least not according to quantum mechanics.

 

The phenomenon is that if you fire particles through a narrow slit onto a detector screen, you see a blobby impact pattern. If you fire them one at a time, each one makes a tiny spot, and the spots accumulate with a certain random scatter, gradually forming the blob pattern. If you have two narrow slits close together, instead of just one, the blob pattern is very different. In particular it's actually a string of blobs, with dark lines in it where particles never hit. And this is true even if you fire the particles one at a time. The specks come randomly one at a time, but they somehow keep avoiding certain spots, even though they'll happily pile up into blobs on either side of them.

 

And it's not just one avoided spot in the middle, either. There's a whole series of avoided lines, with nice fat blobs accumulating in between. It's an interference pattern much like what you can see with water or sound waves running into a large space through a pair of narrow channels. But the particles form this wave pattern by accumulation of random one-at-a-time tiny specks.

 

Quantum mechanics predicts that the individual particles will make tiny speck impacts, randomly scattered, just as is seen. It also predicts, using a wave equation somewhat like the one obeyed by sound and water waves, exactly what the final blob pattern will look like, depending on how many slits there are, how wide they are, how far apart they are, and so on. And this theoretical prediction agrees with experiment exactly, as far as we can tell. Conceivably QM is wrong, and what is really happening is that the particles are splitting and reconnecting. But that is not at all what QM says is happening, and QM has been amazingly successful in precisely matching an enormous amount of experiments.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I assume that somebody has already pointed out that that name ("Platapi") is an abomination on several fronts.

 

I have mixed feelings about WoT. Stopping at 6 does make sense. I think I'm going to re-read the whole thing this summer, though, in advance of Book 12 coming out (and, as I've alluded to earlier, I do think that Book 12 is going to be good, probably as good as or better than anything since about Book 6).

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For school, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Why, dear teacher, why? For pleasure, A Million Open Doors by John Barnes--and to my utter amazement, I have yet to find anything snarky and negative to say about it.

 

P.S. Apparently some people really, really like Invisible Man, so I suppose I should expand upon my above comment. I hate the metaphors, particularly the most obvious ones (like when the whites get the blacks to pick up coins from an electrified rug.)

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Originally Posted By: Tyranicus
Honestly, as far as WoT goes, I wouldn't read past book 6 either. They get progressively worse at that point. There's several books there where the exact same thing keeps happening.


The last one was an improvement, but that might be because they knew that they have to finish up. You can skip a few books without missing much.
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It's nice to see Drakefyre again. The two Claudius books are quite good. The second is maybe less fun to read, just because Claudius with power isn't as sympathetic. (I don't count that as a spoiler, since it's history that Claudius did become emperor.) There are quite a few ancient Roman bio-fictions now, and I've liked all the ones I've read. Though my opinion of Roman civilization has taken a great dive.

 

I just finished Trudi Canavan's Black Magician trilogy, and I'm pleasantly surprised. The novice-in-magic-school thing is practically a genre now, and I confess that at a few months after reading both Canavan's volume 1 and Rothfuss's Name of the Wind, I was getting them mixed up in memory.

 

Canavan's books are certainly competent, but what maybe makes them stand out is that she actually has a story beyond the School Days tale, which gets going so slowly that it only really takes off in the final volume. It's not that it's just tacked on to the first two volumes; it does all tie together. And I don't know if it's ideal pacing, but it's refreshing these days to have volumes 1 and 2 be a long prelude to a strong volume 3, instead of volume 3 as a disappointing end to an initially promising idea.

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Heh. Harry Turtledove's alternate Byzantium series persists in calling his emperors 'avtokrator'.

 

Turtledove is a pretty good writer, or at least was, but he has written so much now so fast that I haven't even bothered trying any of his recent stuff. But his Videssos series was quite good, and The Guns of the South was great.

 

I guess the first 'novice in magic school' novel was A Wizard of Earthsea. Or am I missing something? Dunsany's The Charwoman's Shadow has some overlap with the genre I guess, and so does T.H. White's Once and Future King. Now there's Canavan, Rothfuss, and of course Rowling really revived it all. I think there's at least one more comparable series on the YA shelves, maybe quite a few. Anyone before Le Guin, or between Roke and Hogwarts?

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A Wizard of Earthsea is as concerned with the wizard as post-bac/grad as it is with the school. The rest of the series even more so.

 

The Young Wizards series by Diane Duane is a definite pre-Harry Potter student wizard series (ongoing, I believe), although definitely not in the campus novel/series genre that Harry Potter adds. They're quite different in tone and setting, but both concern young wizards in the modern world.

 

Really I can think of many stories about young student wizards, but very few put the idea of a single school and a single campus as centrally as Harry Potter. They really are campus novels taken to fantasy.

 

—Alorael, who must point out that Terry Pratchett had wizards in school early as well. His students, however, are to be seen and terrified, not heard. The faculty are much more important.

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