This was a busy month, reading-wise, and also in terms of book discovery! I started a fediverse account for my reading endeavours, at scifi.fyi, so if you want to read more about what I'm reading and how I'm dealing with my reading list, feel free to follow me there (just make sure to introduce yourselves if we haven't talked about books before).
Reading list length: 278
Excellent scifi. Cibola Burn is the fourth part of The Expanse, and the series just keeps on giving. Every book is exactly the kind of scifi I want to read – difficult situations, new worlds, people who are consistent and neither good nor evil (except for Naomi, of course), but just live their lives. Cibola Burn felt very much like I'd fear the exploration of thousands of suddenly appearing new worlds would go. I think if you think too hard about the technology level displayed in the series, some missing (AI, among other things) tech doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I'm willing to forgive this for the vast, technologically and psycologically sound universe.
The Way of Kings
The Stormlight Archive looks like it's going to be outstanding Fantasy – Brandon Sanderson starts out with a nearly flawless first volume with The Way of Kings. We get a fascinating, complex world, with slow, steady, and subtle worldbuilding (except for a bit of on-the-nose "I'm explaining the rules here" in the first five pages). This world has a lot of distinct cultures, with histories, and mythologies (partly connected, partly separate), and we get to figure it out mostly for ourselves! The story is fairly unpredictable (at least for more than a hundred pages at a time or so), the characters are distinct, mostly lovable or at least understandable, and not Mary Sue-ish at all. One of the protagonists has to deal with explicit depressive episodes, for example. It's a long book, but it's very much worth it, and while at times characters seem like Fantasy archetypes (is that Ned Stark? Is that Hermione?) – that never lasts long, and instead they evolve to be distinct characters that I can't wait to read more about.
Codex Alera continues to be stunning Fantasy – I'm honestly not sure how this Jim Butcher is the same who wrote the Dresden Files. Those are good, but nowhere near Codex Alera. In the second to last volume, we see a great mix of character development, new characters, characters with legitimate but opposing views, and of course brilliant last minute tactics. All characters we care about get a fair bit of development, and since nearly all characters are very very nuanced, including the deeper introduction of non-human cultures, I'm more than willing to accept the one or two plain villains. Seeing an end-of-the-world level struggle on all sides of the three plots (Amara and Bernard, Isana with the frost people, Tavi on an entirely different continent) was a good mix, even though I felt the chapter endings/POV switches were not always executed at good points.
I'm pretty sad this series is over soon now, especially since I'm not one for re-reads (I'd love to, but in the same time I could read new books!) So I hope the last volume, First Lord's Fury, will be an appropriately awesome ending.
The Three-Body Problem
I came into the first volume of Liu Cixin's Remembrance of Earth's Past with high expectations, as there was somewhat of a hype surrounding the book. It's not quite as good as (and too me, evocative of) Subjective Cosmology by Greg Egan. It's very nice physics (and physicists) scifi.
The characters were irritatingly flat a lot of the time (a common hard scifi illness), and often felt over the top to me. The beginning of the book was fairly slow, and compared to that, the ending felt sudden (not rushed, mind, only sudden), and I missed some information and worldbuilding there. (I can't be more specific without heavy spoilers, sorry.) I appreciated the somber ending (although the very final scene was a bit over the top for me).
The translation was pretty good. There remained occasional phrases that sounded weird/unidiomatic, but it happens, especially if there's so much culture to translate.
The Vor Game
The Vor Game is another Miles book in the Vorkosigan Saga, and as usual, it is a lot of fast-paced fun. I felt a bit lost over the first third or so, where it wasn't clear where the plot was going, and every time I thought I had it figured out, it switched to an entirely new track. I spent a good amount of time wondering how those threads would be tied back together, and the story did not disappoint at all. I love that while the Miles stories are mostly fun and action, all characters are consistent, and have noble and less-noble motivations, capabilities, and dreams. Not only Miles himself (who could be a Mary Sue were it not for his depression, and social issues, and missing ability to stop escalating, and … see? Good character building!), but all of his friends, comrades, subordinates, bosses, and enemies. Love the series.
It's been a long time (apart from Too Like The Lightning) that I've read a novel that felt so tailored to me like Babel-17. I mean, it's a queer polyamorous scifi novel where linguistics are key, even to winning space battles, which there are plenty of. I have no words. It's also been the first time in a while that a novel brought me to tears. This is absolutely what scifi is supposed to be like. It's rapid, and fun, and deep, and thoughtful, and introduces alien concepts and human behaviour, and …. I can absolutely see why it won the very first Nebula Award – even though I was very surprised to hear it's as old as 1966. It doesn't feel aged at all.
City of Illusions
City of Illusions is part of the Heinish Cycle, and an okay-or-maybe-good one at that! This book starts out slow, and then meanders, and then reaches a pretty good ending – that is cut way too short, in my opinion. As is common with Ursula K. le Guin, we see the protagonist on a not-quite-intentional journey. The large time gaps in the beginning helped to keep the story moving, and made me feel invested in the protagonist's search for his past, without feeling that I was just seeing a common trope. The resolution was typical of le Guin, who rarely shies away from difficult discussions and decisions.
If only the ending hadn't been so short! I'd love to read a book on the last 20% of the story plus what came after.
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character
Feynman's autobiography was a bit too far on the stream-of-consciousness side for my tastes, but at least this way the reader gets a very direct feeling for what Feynman was like. Not always the best person, and with his share of faults and stupid/bad behaviour, but at the same time very engaging and open. Some parts dragged on, but most were interesting in at least some respect. An enjoyable read in the end.
Carrie was a good book, and I think its biggest failing was that it felt like a great book that followed a blueprint to being good. But you can't say that the blueprint doesn't work – because it does. Carrie is one of those horror books that make very clear that the supernatural is not the stuff horrors are made of. That's reserved for regular humans and their actions and decisions. Stephen King is really good at painting humans in their day-to-day lives, with both their kindness and their cruelty. His pacing is also very good and reminded me a bit of a tuned-down Vonnegut.
Patternmaster was very enjoyable, and presented great characters (ever Octavia Butler's strength). There was decent worldbuilding, and I'd love to learn more about this world that is a distant decendant of ours – but sadly, the book ends way too early, at a point where I felt there hadn't been all that much plot yet.
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
This book is just nice reading in every regard. You'll learn something about space. You'll learn about NASA and interntional space agency relations. You'll learn about Chris Hadfield's life on earth and in space. It's a peculiar mix of his life story (or rather work story), and the more fundamental approaches that he learned on the way, and that allowed him to get where he got. There are lots of calls for humility, and preparedness, and perseverance, and empathy and helping others bear their loads. And at the same time, the book is completely light-hearted, and made me smile on a regular basis. It made my day better, and maybe it will help make me better, too.
- We Who Will Destroy the Future is a nice little time travel short story. Good story, good setting, very good narrator voice.
- Fandom for Robots is a charming humorous story about the only existing sentient robot (bulky out-of-date thing from the 50s) finds anime and fanfiction. Fluffy, funny, but sadly a bit inconsequential.
- I felt like The Martian Obelisk by Linda Nagata only built despair to alleviate it, and that was about it. I think the reason is that I don't buy an Earth with reduced but still significant population levels and significant infrastructure mixed with sentences like "surgery became a lost art" and the debilitating despair that seemed to stop everybody from doing anything actually useful.
- Crispin's Model is modern Lovecraftian horror – well done, but I'm not into Lovecraftian horror all that much, and not into painting either, so it didn't grip me.
- The Secret Life of Bots is an utterly charming novella by Suzanne Palmer. I can't really say much without spoiling parts of it, but the protagonist is lovely without being humanised, the personal dynamics are sweet and witty, and the time reading it was very well spent.
- I like Ann Leckie a lot, but Night's Slow Poison didn't work for me – the story was either too short or too aimless for me to appreciate.
- All the Troubles of the World by Isaac Asimov was heart-breaking and well-paced. I was kind of sick of reading of dystopic futures with evil, flawed humans and evil, flawed AI everywhere, and this story is a nice break from all that, although a bit predictable.
Do not recommend
- Dune Messiah was very much not my kind of book, and for different reasons than I disliked Dune. While my criticism regarding Good vs Evil characters from the first volume is remedied in the second one, Frank Herbert's narration style of showing the thoughts of just about everybody felt like a giant "tell, don't show". I felt like the story just crawled along. Everything was overthought and overexplained, none of the characters were likeable in any way, and very little actually happened. I felt that the large time gap ("I don't want to be the messiah and cause a jihad" - 12 years later, guess what) took also part in my disbelief at the fact that there was nothing an emperor could do to at least mitigate the issues he suffered from. I probably won't go on with the series.
- Golden Son was a worthy successor to Red Rising. It, too, had a slow start, only here te start extends to the 50% mark of the book. After that, a fairly slow and generic story picks up speed, originality, and its past characteristics. Even at its best though it still feels forced in a way that's hard to describe: As if everything happened just because the author willed it that way, and may as well have happened completely differently without breaking any internal logic. The wooden language doesn't help either. I felt there was a lot of unfulfilled potential in this book, and I'm not sure if I'm going to continue the series.
- I did not finish because the English translation was really really really bad. I got up to about 40%. Nice setting, but world-building comes mostly in infodumps. Story seemed interesting though.
- While I liked Greg Egan's other novels, Diaspora didn't grip me at all and was very hard to get through. The fact that it revolves around an advanced species that can change itself to any degree it wants to made it hard to feel sypathy with any of the characters. The beginning was really strong, describing how their civilizations and personalities are formed. But after that, to my feeling the book consisted only of excalating physicsbabble and arbitrary personality changes, and this escalation continued right upon the not quite satisfying end.