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What have you been reading recently?


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Recently read:

Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges. Uneven. When a given story contains a solid alignment of idea and style (eg, Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, The Library of Babel) it's spectacular. When they aren't quite aligned (Funes the Memorious, The South) the coy, oblique, allusive style feels like a tiresome smokescreen to cover for Borges's unwillingness to really develop an idea.

Tales of Pirx the Pilot, by Stanisław Lem. Okay. Blunt, low-stakes stories in a setting where interplanetary travel, and all it implies, is common, and even boring. They work fine as escapist thrillers, but mostly lack the more cerebral appeal of Lem's better/mature work.

Fiasco, also by Stanisław Lem. Lem's last and probably most pessimistic novel, and ostensibly the last Pirx story, this is almost exactly the opposite: almost all of the appeal is intellectual, especially since there is no happy or even emotionally-satisfying ending. Also Lem's last and most thorough treatment of the first contact scenario he returned to through his career. An extremely good book.

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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

  • 4 months later...

Recently read books:

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. Very good. There's so much that's been said about this novel that I don't think there's much I can add to the discourse. I enjoyed it, and especially the sly way Vonnegut works his themes into the text both plot-wise and stylistically.

The Isles: A History, by Norman Davies. I think Davies is very possibly a brilliant historian, but in that particularly British way (eg Taylor or Hobsbawm or Trevor-Roper or Carr- Taylor was his mentor) where his idiosyncrasies and biases and iconoclasm are so apparent that it's hard to recommend him broadly. Anyway this is a history of the "British" Isles (deliberately avoiding that term for good reasons). He's excellent at the big sweeping aspects, but sometimes fumbles the details.

Memoirs of a Space Traveler, by Stanisław Lem. This is basically just the stories that got cut from the English translation of The Star Diaries, translated by different translators, and then reassembled into this hodgepodge. It's uneven enough that, frankly, removing these stories from The Star Diaries makes it a stronger work, while this is basically a curio, although some of it is great.

The Show that Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, by Dave Weigel. A weird misfire. Lots of information, synthesized poorly, with no real thesis or arguments, and little in the way of explanatory power. Disappointing.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino. Typically stylistically brilliant and elusive in the standard Calvino way, although I felt that ultimately this might be less than the sum of its parts- there are passages that are gold, and then passages that, while clever, are merely serviceable- in a way that perhaps illustrates why I have thus far preferred his short fiction to his novels. It also gives me a greater appreciation for what Lem means by his backhanded compliment, in A Perfect Vacuum, that Calvino is the artistic descendant of jewelers rather than of sculptors.

 

Currently: A Perfect Vacuum, by Lem. Next up, in some order: His Master's Voice and More Tales of Pirx the Pilot, both also by Lem; The Hole in the Moon and Other Tales by Margaret St. Clair; Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut; Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Hope they're good.

Edited by googoogjoob
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  • 3 weeks later...

Oh boy. More books:

 

A Perfect Vacuum, by Stanisław Lem. Reviews of nonexistent books, which format Lem uses to strike out in different directions, some more fruitful than others. Some of these reviews made me wish dearly that the books they describe existed; others were excellent constructs in themselves; and some were just boring. Overall worthwhile.

Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut. I feel basically similarly about this book as I do about Slaughterhouse-Five, although it wasn't quite as good, maybe. Lots of jokes, very little incident. But they're good jokes.

Bowie in Berlin: A New Career in a New Town, by Thomas Jerome Seabrook. Flawed (too much focus on Lust for Life, not enough on Lodger, etc), but overall an excellent work of collation and organization into a coherent narrative, and probably the best book (for now) on the most creatively fruitful period of David Bowie's career.

More Tales of Pirx the Pilot, by Stanisław Lem. This is the second half of the Pirx short stories, which got unnecessarily split into two books in English translation. The currently-in-print versions of these books are somehow from different publishers, too. Anyway. Better than the first half of the stories- meatier themes and better storytelling. While taking a shower when I was near the end of reading this book, I realized why Fiasco is a Pirx story, even though Pirx dies off-screen in the first chapter, and the protagonist of the bulk of the novel may or may not be (and probably isn't) Pirx.

The Street Lawyer, by John Grisham. Loaned from my grandparents. A change of pace from all the weighty speculative fiction stuff. It was okay, I guess. I certainly managed to read over 300 pages of it in three days.

The Hole in the Moon and Other Stories, by Margaret St. Clair. A recent anthology of 17 (mostly very brief) stories by Margaret St. Clair, a post-Golden Age, pre-New Wave pulp author of weird fiction. The collection curiously omits what I understand to be her best-known story (The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles, which I haven't read), but it does a good job of making a case for St. Clair as an overlooked talent worthy of rediscovery- she had a knack for breezy storytelling and freaky happenings. (Trivia: two of her novels were cited by Gygax as thematic influences on the development of Dungeons & Dragons.)

Edited by googoogjoob
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7 hours ago, googoogjoob said:

Stanisław Lem

Did you read the recent translation in English of Solaris dating back to 2011? For some reason I cannot find it.

 

I'm currently reading I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, more interesting than I had imagined. I like the way Asimov describes the situations, quite blankly, and how he focuses on the danger robots represent, although he doesn't much emphasizes too heavily on it. :)

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54 minutes ago, ladyonthemoon said:

Did you read the recent translation in English of Solaris dating back to 2011? For some reason I cannot find it.

I have not. My understanding of the situation is that, while the 2011 translation is much, much superior to the original English translation, due to obscure publishing rights issues, it can only be released as an audiobook and an ebook (and there might be further rights issues from there, even though Lem's family prefers the 2011 translation). I don't listen to audiobooks, and I don't have an ebook reader.

 

I've actually never read Solaris at all. The more-easily-available standard English translation from 1970 is a hackjob that retranslates a French translation of the novel into English, and Lem hated it. And my Polish is nowhere near good enough to read the original. If I'm going to read the book, I want to do so in a way that doesn't mangle it somehow.

Edited by googoogjoob
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Raven Tower by Ann Leckie. I would say it lacks a certain something that her more famous Ancillary series has. It still has a detached narrator who is extremely reliable about facts and unreliable when it comes to introspection. I was prepared to dislike it by getting it un-recommended to me, but I found it quite charming. It captures a mythic and even mythological atmosphere well, and the fact that it's a transparent rehashing of another work with a twist and an outside perspective doesn't detract anything.

 

—Alorael, who also finds that it's one of those books that makes him really want to play the tabletop game adaptation, but there isn't one, and it's not something where even the bare bones of how to make one seems obvious. That's praise.

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