The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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books: american gods redux
children of dune - leto 1
seperis
I finished American Gods Wednesday night in a single long rush because I indeed got much more interested.



A part of me does not understand how he can write those brilliant, tiny ministories--the twins were especially gutting and wonderful, the former thief-maid was wonderful--and still want to go back to writing Shadow, who isn't nearly as much fun to write, as he does absolutely nothing. I'm also annoyed who he turned out to be, because if you are going to be the son of a god, interesting should be your like, middle name.

However, at least in-text, this seems to be his actual personality--the lack of one, I mean--and it did help somewhat to realize this was a deliberate writing choice for a pretty good reason. I don't knock that, but that does not make it more interesting. It was also--and I guess this was also a choice--a really bright contrast between the backstories, which were brilliantly colorful moments out of time compared to the slogging through the monochrome of Shadow's existence. It was also where I could appreciate Gaiman's prose, which is breathtaking, and it became a lot more fun to read once I focused on that rather than well, Shadow himself. Honestly, I'll be re-reading for some of the descriptive passages alone; they're utterly gorgeous, and possibly work even better on a tabula rasa character like Shadow, whose personality does not interfere with getting out an amazing sentence.

OTOH, the mythology makes everything worth it, almost.

I'm up next for Anansi Boys, since I've heard it is an improvement, and maybe a tighter focus--uh, for various definitions of tighter focus--will work better.

My current reading list:

1.) Anansi Boys
2.) Neverwhere
3.) Coraline

Then I'm biting the bullet and hitting Heinlein. I have avoided it for--well, my entire sci-fi reading life, really, but I feel that when the hardest sci-fi I've hit has been Gibson--who by the way is goddamn amazing--I need to update. So far, the following, but if anyone wants to suggest anything, feel free.

1.) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
2.) Stranger in a Strange Land
3.) Have Spacesuit, Will Travel

This really does make it sound like I'm eating my vegetables--though by the way, I love vegetables, especially Brussels sprouts, so the analogy ends up weird--which I guess is true? But not in a literary pretentious way, I think. But there's an actual reason for this, though granted, it's a weird one.

Years ago, my boyfriend of the time convinced me to read Armor by John Steakley, and if you haven't read it, it's--I sent this book to several friends just to share the trauma (if you've read his Vampire$, it's like minus three times the lack of uplifting that one is, seriously).

The summary on the page is a lie of the most debatably vicious kind--it's kind of true, because the entire goddamn book is about how to test the human spirit to its limits. My summary would be a condensed version of an actual comparison in the book; you are looking down a well at a puppy you cannot possibly rescue with a broken leg who is dying, and you have to watch it, you can't stop, and worse, it isn't going to die. This book is a goddamn puppy in a well, and once you realize that, you also realize you can't look away because you're kind of stuck to the bitter end. I don't regret reading it, I think, but it did hit my limit on how many puppies I am willing to watch die, and that is none. It's amazing, and I can say with honesty that it was formative in my development as a reader and a writer; my internal ruler always compares what I'm writing to the well puppy and don't go there, so that worked out well. I also need to get a copy as soon as it is on ebook and read it straight though again, because I'm pretty sure there was more to it than the endless suffering of the human spirit while fighting giant insects, but damn if I can remember anything not a well-puppy.

Vampire$, otoh, is weirdly not as gutting, but it has bar none the best, most terrifying vampires ever written into prose. The amorality, the viciousness, the alienness while being human-shaped, human vice leashed to something so entirely inhuman it's grotesque. And what they do to their thralls is--I mean, torture is horrifying and everything, but it's nothing like the invasive--the word I want here is 'unclean' in the most archaic sense, but I'm not sure how to work that into a sentence where filthy is also a possible descriptor when it's entirely of the soul.

(Note: to make it that much more challenging, they are fucking hard to kill, so it's basically an exercise in horror just to kill them and I don't mean from the pov of the to-be-killed creature; it's goddamn traumatic to be the one doing it.)

I tried in two stories to pull it off--one in Queer as Folk and one in American Idol--and from two points of view at that--and I still couldn't nail how reading that made me feel, though it did exorcise a lot of my lingering issues with pretty much any vampire romance in the world that plays down the fact you're taking to bed something that is not and cannot ever be human again and human values just might not only not apply, but may either not make any sense to them or are kind of cute to fuck with, why not?

This is a long way of saying, a lot of sci-fi has a very strong tradition of overarching themes and losing the individual to prove an argument, or far worse and more painful, using the character for the proof of argument, which I'm not arguing this is terrible, I'm arguing that six hours of reading should not make me lose faith in existence itself.



So how is everyone else's weekend going? Read anything good?

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'Citizen of the Galaxy' was a very early read of mine, so maybe nostalgia colours it, but I'd add that to the Heinlein. Also 'Number of the Beast' just because it is Heinlein doing xover crackfic, basically.

Bedside reading - I'm working my way through Georgette Heyer again, to counteract some research on black magic and psychotropic drug use in shamanistic rituals, which is less fun that it sounds.

With Gaiman, 'Neverwhere' is great, but I do think he shines in short stories - 'Smoke and Mirrors' is a great collection, particularly 'Murder Mysteries' - for any Castiel fan, seriously - and one or two of the pieces in 'Fragile Things' stay with you in ways that are not entirely comfortable. (Wreck my childhood nostalgia about Narnia, why don't you, Neil?)

edit: add to flag-waving for Gibson.

Edited at 2013-02-16 06:56 pm (UTC)

If you're hitting Heinlein (and I recommend you hit it HARD--I have many great adolescent memories and I can honestly say he had a huge impact on the way I handle interpersonal relationships), I'd say Friday (just for an amazing story with an even more amazing heroine). But absolutely Time Enough for Love. For one thing the later parts of Number of the Beast won't make any sense if you don't read Time Enough for Love first. Also, once you read it (assuming you like it enough to continue), a whole host of short stories, novellas and novels by Heinlein are instantly more accessible. It's the foundation story of an entire universe of his.

I could go on for hours, but I really envy you this particular first-time experience. Enjoy!

Oh, Heinlein. I have extremely fond memories of Space Family Stone, though I haven't reread it for years. I do not rec I Will Fear No Evil by Heinlein though, unless you enjoy having the sexual politics of books make you want to throw them at the nearest wall... honestly, Stranger in a Strange Land suffers from some of the same issues for a modern reader, but it was a more interesting story. I will be interested to see your reaction.

I'm not really sure what you consider hard sci-fi, but if you are going for the "classic" writers, I would rec John Wyndham, particularly The Chrysalids and John Christopher's The Tripods Trilogy. My Dad was very into Larry Niven, though the only one I read was a book of short stories called The Flight of the Horse which was excellent but not very hard sci-fi! And there's Ursula Le Guin who certainly did what I would call hard sci-fi and is a very good writer (though I much prefer the Earthsea fantasy books).

Space Family Stone! I read that as a teenager also! In fact, for years I thought that Heinlein was a children's book author...

All of Wyndham I read as an adolescent. And John Christopher's tripods I read as a child (9/10 years old) when it absolutely blew me away. I re-read them all a few years ago and they stood the test of time. Especially Book 3: stunning.

Ursula LeGuin is one of my favouritest writers ever. She is teh awe and a genius and I love almost all her books and have re-read them copious number of times. Also her short stories: now they are the ones that changed my life (and moral outlook). helene94 mentioned life-changing literature.

The Tripods trilogy is excellent - though I think I always liked the 2nd one the best (since I had them all in one volume, I can't recall the individual names). I didn't much enjoy another trilogy of his though, something like the Prince in Waiting? A little too dark for my taste. And I loathed Empty World which we read for English class one year, but if you like post-apocalypse I suppose it is worth a read.

And I forgot about Chocky by Wyndham, though I don't know how - also excellent.

I never read Jerry Niven by himself but I did read The Mote in God's Eye by Niven and Pournell when it came out in the 1970's. I loved it the first time I read it, very exciting, an interesting plot, great aliens. Then 30 years later I saw it and remembered I liked it. I got into a few chapters when the female protagonist met the male protagonist and as they started dating told him he shouldn't worry about the fact that she had a Masters Degree in Anthropology, because she had NO intention of being one of those women who would work after marriage, she was above silly ideas like that. I admittedly stopped reading right there. However I can say that as a team Niven and Pournell did write some stories that really caught me, although I never went back again to see how they fit in my feminist sensibilities.

Anansi Boys is definitely a different take on being the son of a god. A lighter story, and Fat Charlie may be more to your taste than Shadow - certainly his brother is *exactly* what the son of a trickster god should be, and with good reason. The starfish metaphor was wonderful when youh reach the point of it.

Neverwhere is the novelization of a miniseries Gaiman wrote that's fixing everything he hated about what the director did to it. Haven't read Coraline myself, though I've seen the movie. Need to reread Stardust. He's done some wonderful short stories that stick with you - I'm especially fond of "Snow, Glass, Apples" (Snow White the vampire) and "Chivalry" (old woman finds the Holy Grail in a charity shop and Galahad comes looking for it). Both of those are in Smoke and Mirrors, an excellent collection. (Oh, and I'd forgotten "Nicholas Was...") Also "A Study in Emerald" and "I, Cthulhu," both of which you can find free online.

Heinlein I haven't read since an adolescent and trust my recollections well enough to recommend now. Though, The Star Beast was a good concept, and Tunnel in the Sky.

Yes, Study in Emerald I read two weeks ago on my kindle and it is indeed very fine (what a fanboy he is). Thanks for reccing I, Cthulhu: I don't know that one!

Ooh yes, "Snow, Glass and Apples" is awesome! I'd forgotten that one.

Hah, you are powering through the origfic. I read American Gods years ago on holiday in Zakynthos and remember mostly the surprise ending. Can't remember a character called Shadow.... (Does that prove that he is as boring as you suggest???)

I like Neverwhere best of the Gaiman novels. I have an odd relationship to the novels: I devour most Gaimans (and have now read them all) but they leave an odd, unsatisfied taste so that I haven't ever re-read any of them. Haven't quite pinpointed what that is about yet.

I ploughed my way through tons of Heinlein as a teenager and then stopped! Stranger in a Strange Land impressed my 14-year-old-self, and I do remember the title of Have Spacesuit but I'll be danged if I remember anything else about it...

Heinlen is the reason I started looking for women scifi authors. I liked Moon and Time and Stranger, but I was never happy with the way he wrote women. They all seemed like Stepford women ; all perfect, none of them messy, none of them remotely like me.

On Heinlein, I also rec Time Enough For Love, as well as Space Family Stone, The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, Number of the Beast (that's where I got my username here), and To Sail Beyond the Sunset--those books, along with Harsh Mistress and Stranger, are all the Heinlein that I love and have reread many times :) Yes, there are sexual politics issues throughout, but I just remember when they were written and overlook it.

I enjoyed Gaiman's Neverwhere quite a lot, but I haven't read any of his others.

w00t!

Heinlein recs: Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Citizen of the Galaxy, Stranger in a Strange Land, Podkayne of Mars, The Rolling Stones, The Door into Summer, Methuselah's Children, Glory Road. Starship Troopers is a lot of fun, though kind of dated as regards women in combat. Farnham's Freehold, I think, would tremendously piss you off. I didn't like Time Enough for Love as much as I thought I would; turned out there was actually something sexual that is a squick for me, odd though that is to contemplate. Mind you the great majority of the book is fascinating and very very entertaining; it's a spot of incest very near the end that kicked me out of the book on my arse.

I commend David Brin, also: Sundiver, Startide Rising, The Uplift War -- those are a trilogy, set in his Uplift Universe. Would also recommend Earth, and greatly recommend Kiln People -- fucking brilliant!

And if ye liked Gibson, I recommend Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. Beyond brilliant, and very pertinent to our own reality. Also good by him is Snow Crash, the first of his I read and still a favourite.

Ursula LeGuin: The Left Hand of Darkness, and also The Disposessed.

CJ Cherryh: The Faded Sun: Kesrith, The Faded Sun: Shon'jir, and The Faded Sun: Kutath, collectively called the Mri Wars trilogy. This absolutely galvanized me the first time I read it, and rocks my world on every re-read. Lets just say, the one was born kel'en and never knew it until now.

Also by Cherryh: The Morgaine Cycle, which is four volumes: Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan, Fires of Azeroth, and Exile's Gate. One of her themes I saw in both these series, a big one for her, is the way single humans will go out from their own cultures and worlds to become something else in the end, bridging the gap between us and other. Both series are top fucking notch SF.

More Wyndham recs: The Chrysalids, The Day of the Triffids (dated mores, but really cool apocalyptic Earth), and also The Midwich Cuckoos (verrry creepy).

Niven and Pournelle: Lucifer's Hammer -- your basic comet hits the planet story, very fun, though Niven and Pournelle's rich kid background does rather show in places. *shrug* wtf, I like endsitall stories, shoot me =) Niven's short story collection Neutron Star was his first I read and is still my favourite of his.

I have yet to read *anything* by Gaiman I don't adore and enjoy, FWIW...

*whew* ok, that'll do! hope this doesn't annoy ye, hopefully some of these will please you to read. *doffs his hat, bows*

Good e'en to thee, my Lady. =)

I absolutely love the 'Atevi' sequence from C J Cherryh. Oddly, I never quite think of that as sci-fi, more of a historical political thriller.

It's odd that Wyndham doesn't get more respect. Some of it is dated, but some of the themes he tackled are still huge. Seriously nuts sci-fi - anyone read Neal Asher? His 'Polity' books are excellent, but I'd start with 'The Skinner' for the true flavour of weird.

yeah, Wyndham was one of my early finds, back around junior high or so. The Chrysalids blew my mind. It's very British, but damn, it's a good read.

I thought of another good Neal Stephenson book, if you can find it: Zodiac. funny as hell, and oh so very pertinent. It'll piss you off, make you laugh like a mad bastard, and at the end it'll give you a ruefully triumphant grin.

Have you ever been to the House on the Rock? I hadn't when I first read American Gods, but the scene set there piqued my interest, and I went. I had assumed in reading that the description was largely fantasy, but uh...it's not. Definitely worth visiting at some point if you are in the region. :)

I love Have Spacesuit Will Travel! Granted I read it as a kid, but I remember it as a fun YA story. A young teen tries to repair a spacesuit for fun (he was trying to win a trip to the moon and a broken suit was his consolation prize)! There's also a cool plucky girl (I figure she got to have a character since she was prepubescent). And I think there was a kitty-like alien.

The others I have heard mixed reviews of, despite their iconic-ness, and have put on my "will read one day... maybe" pile. I know some hard SF fans who kind of sideeye Stranger in a Strange Land as not his usual and just his muddied thoughts on society. This may be a plus or minus to you.

I also liked Double Star. A man who has a phobia of aliens is called upon to be the replacement for a politician who was negotiating with them (they look near-identical). Not the hardest SF, but it was fun for me as a teen.

TBPH, it's been so long since I've read Heinlein's stuff that I don't remember specifics except that I liked and/or loved what I read, but only after reading them in publication order.

I don't remember which book I tried to read first, but it mentioned Schrodinger's cat in it and the hero woke up on a biobed and startled at being addressed by the AI. I only bring this up to mention that I hated, hated it, it made no sense to me.

And I gave up on Heinlein until I tried again and this time I read the (adult) books, more or less, in publication order and then I loved them. Made so much more sense when I reread the book that I had hated.

You don't have to read the juvenile books as background for the adult books, but, iirc, it might help a little. So, if you hate the books, try the earlier ones before you decide against him? It might make a difference.

Can't say I care for Heinlein - but if you want to hit something a bit harder than Gibson, try Neal Asher. Start with "Gridlinked" and work your way through the Ian Cormac series (next is "Line of Polity," then "Brass Man," then "Polity Agent," and finally "Line War," after which you can go back and read the prequel "Shadow of the Scorpion" if you want a bit more).

You can also go for Asher's series based around the planet Spatterjay, starting with "The Skinner," but don't blame me if you never want to go into the ocean again afterward. ;-)

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