November was good! I got some work on projects done, 35C3 feels like it can come (and didn't eat all of my time), and I read some good and some great stories! My reading list continued to grow, but it didn't grow unchecked.
Reading list length: 418
The Lifecycle of Software Objects
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang is a charming (if depressing) story of virtual pets who are trained to be cute companions, but when the fad fades – after layoffs and knockoffs – it turns out you can train them up over the years to have intelligence and an understanding of the world. Yes, like children. Hilarity does not ensue, but it's a well-enough-written story that felt realistic. If anything, I'd have appreciated a little less realism – I'm already familiar with all the depressive reality of the software industry, and I'd like something more in my reading.
Babylon's Ashes might have been the part of the Expanse series I've
enjoyed most so far. We get to see the fallout of the previous conflicts (as
with every book so far), and see how people act under the pressure of humanty's
fate hanging in the balance. (I don't want to spoiler anybody, so I'll leave it
I enjoyed re-visiting the known and trusted characters, and meeting new ones – this book has a lot of POV characters, some only once or twice, and it worked surprisingly well. The Expanse series is also very, very impressive in terms of long-term character building. It also knows how to do character death – a character I never cared too much about dies in the course of the book, and the history combined with the reactions of the other characters made it an intense reading experience. I think, surprisingly, the plot was noticeably weaker than the character building here, with the ending being predictable some 30% or so off. Thankfully that didn't make the book any less enjoyable.
Oathbringer shows how intensely Brandon Sanderson can deliver payoff to >1k pages long story archs. There are several moments where I was so invested in both the characters an the story, that the ongoing action made me emotional – we get to see our share of drug problems, depression, psychic breakdowns, all from characters that have a lot of history and have come a far way. Finally getting all the backstory on Dalinar, and seeing his development, were definitely worth the read – but I really wish that this Brandon could make this payoff possible in thinner books. Only a bit, mind, but the Stormlight Archives do tend to be … lengthy. And despite the length, somehow we never get to see how the main cast react to drastic events and revelations. It's weird – but it's still good (sometimes: great) fantasy.
The City & the City
The City & the City is a very impressive scifi book, but while I can appreciate its coolness and weirdness, and I can't point to a single flaw, somehow the story didn't quite grip me, although the concept of the two cities was introduced beautifully.
I think my problem with Hyperion were my expectations. The book is touted as one of the best scifi books out there, and it didn't live up to that. Apart from this, though, it's a fine scifi book – relatable characters, each presenting themselves over and their (mostly tragic) history over the course of an equally tragic main plot. Then, just when we're supposed to get some resolution, it simply stops. WHAT? Yes. The entire book is giving the cast background to make us understand the stakes, and then leaves us hanging on a cliffhanger. I'll read the next one, but I'll do it grudgingly.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
This was absolutely lovely scifi that reminded me a lot of Firefly in terms of down-to-earth real ship operations with a lovely, relatable crew and a gritty/real feeling universe. Seeing the crew of the Wayfarer coming together, in all their alien differences, and following them on their way to a difficult job, and seeing their hardship and friendship, was touching and a wonderful help against the autumn gloom.
The Eye of the World
I wasn't that much of a fan of The Eye of the World. It's got a couple of
things that make it good Fantasy: detailed worldbuilding, for example, and
characters that were clearly recognizable and not all the same. A big bad evil
and a young farmboy, well, you know the deal.
But it is sloww. Very, very slow. Very, very detailed. A character comes into a new room that is pretty irrelevant and will never appear again? You'd better believe you'll know everything about this room! Every encountered person (like a farmer giving the main boy band a ride) is named and contextualized. This would be fun in an interactive adventure where I can choose to skip information like that after the 50th time. I won't count the first third of the book being extremely like the start of the Lord of the Rings, but oh boy, is it ever.
Also, there were just no characters I really liked and sympathized with. The protagonist is bland, one of his friends is nice enough to hold my attention, and most other people are annoying (N., looking at you!) or evil, of course. I'm … not sure I'll make it through 14 books of this.
As per usual, Cetaganda is a very enjoyable book in the Vorkosigan series. It gripped me a bit less than usual, which still makes it a very good book. We follow Miles as he saves yet another empire. I still enjoy both the dry wit and how you've got to think along to get the most of the subtle fun between the lines. Other than that, it felt a bit like Yet Another Adventure, where usually the Vorkosigan books tend to contain series-changing events. Great scifi in any case, I'm looking forward to the next one.
Nova by Samuel Delany was alright – a beautiful space opera telling the story of a captain and is impromptu crew in a well-thought, well-described future a thousand years from now. I can't really say why it didn't grip me as much as other Delany books, maybe my mood and the book just weren't a fit at the time.
A Fisherman of the Inland Sea
I'm not a huge fan of short story collections – they're hard to rate, I don't like reading stories bunched together all that much, it's just not for me. So giving A Fisherman of the Inland Sea 4/5 stars means a lot – Ursula Le Guin always manages to show deeply familiar human sides to technological developments. Here I was impressed with her ability to show groups (families and other groups) interact and evolve. The deep understanding of individuals growing older, away from home or at home, was touching too, and terribly well executed. Oh, the humanity, you know?
- A hanging is a very short essay by George Orwell, describing in very matter-of-fact detail the morning of a prison hanging. It's as terrible and at the same time as common as it sounds.
- The Kite Maker is a short story playing on Earth, 15 years after a peaceful alien race arrived. The Dragonflies, as they were called, were greeted with violence, and now that they are somewhat integrated into society, the right mob moves against them. Heavy-handed metaphore is mixed with good characterization, leading to an intentionally painful, okay-but-not-quite-good short story.
- Bread and Milk and Salt by Sarah Gailey is a delightfully creepy and scary fairytale short story. It's online, so there's no excuse for not reading it – it's definitely worth it.
- Weatherman is a novella that is also part of The Vor Game. It was the weaker part of Vor Game, but it's still bloody good. I mean, it's Lois McMaster Bujold.
- Dreamweaver's Dilemma is a short story by Lois McMaster Bujold, set vaguely in the same universe as her Vorkosigan series. It's nice enough, and shows again her mastery at painting realistic scenarios in unfamiliar worlds, complete with a story arc, but also everyday details. At the same time, it didn't particularly grip me, the pacing was a bit off, so it was just a nice afternoon read.
- The Mountains of Mourning is a very touching Vorkosigan novella by Lois McMaster Bujold. It's deeply impressive to me how very emotional and touching this novella gets in under 150 pages, while still maintaining the character and tone of the overall series. Our favourite hero, Miles, confronts a backwater village while investigating a child murder. The crippled man confronting a society where killing crippled children is more than just tolerated – and at no point Bujold goes for the easy way out. No good vs evil here, oh no, just heartbreak.
Do not recommend
Huh. Apparently I read some middling, but no bad books during November. That's a first!