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Abominatrix
Harbinger of Metal

Joined: Fri Oct 24, 2003 12:15 pm
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 5:53 pm 
 

failsafeman wrote:
MARSDUDE wrote:
Because, for them, the world the author has created is something more than just a series of books. It doesn't get boring for them. Getting lost in that type of world is comforting.

See, I can relate to getting "lost" in that type of world, but not when the books get shitty. Worldbuilding just isn't enough. I enjoyed the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and the world that Stephen R Donaldson creates is very interesting and clearly well thought-out, but that still didn't stop me from feeling very dissatisfied with the Second Chronicles and essentially writing off the Last Chronicles. Luckily Donaldson wrote each trilogy to have its own satisfying conclusion, so if I ever feel like re-reading the first trilogy, I'm not going to be bothered by loose ends that only get resolved by the hit-and-miss second trilogy, or the crappy third trilogy.



Oh yeah; this is a part of the reason I admire Vance. Despite his vocabulary and sometimes flowery descriptive passages, he keeps things concise and always interesting, and Demon Princes is probably his longest and most "immersive" series of books. Frankly a lot of those multi-volume fantasy epics start off pretty interesting but lose steam as the author struggles to find something new or interesting to say. I haven't read the Covenant books, but Donaldson's Gap series went through a steady path of decline until I couldn't even bare to finish the fifth book.

I must admit to being curious about Book of the Fallen, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc, but the trepidation of wasting so much time and investment in a series that never may be finished to a saitsfactory level (heyy, Wheel of Time fans, how's it going over there?) makes me think it might not be worth the effort. I kind of admire mr. Martin though, so when he finally finishes the series, I'll probably take another crack at ASOIAF....
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failsafeman
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 6:52 pm 
 

Abominatrix wrote:
but the trepidation of wasting so much time and investment in a series that never may be finished to a saitsfactory level (heyy, Wheel of Time fans, how's it going over there?) makes me think it might not be worth the effort.

Or shit, what about Dune? That's probably the classic example of a multi-volume series that went downhill as it went on and was never satisfactorily finished.

I think Vance was able to pull off his series like the Demon Princes because he kept it more lightweight - there weren't dozens of characters, there was no complex political intrigue regarding the fate of nations, there's no Dark Lord. Gersen just tracks down and kills five master criminals by himself across a number of weird/exciting worlds. That's the entire plot of the series, so there's nothing to get bogged down in, really.
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Nahsil
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:12 pm 
 

I'm glad I pulled out of Dune during the third novel. I mean, Dune is one of my favorite books, but damn, Herbert really dropped the ball.
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failsafeman
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:17 pm 
 

I don't really even like Dune that much; the universe he created was pretty awesome, no doubt, but as we've discussed before the story is really pretty blatant wish-fulfillment "bland adolescent boy is the chosen one" crap.
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Nahsil
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:19 pm 
 

I don't think that's entirely fair. Paul is a pretty interesting study in "the chosen one" because he wrestles with the notion a lot and the whole thing spirals out of control and at some point there's nothing he can do to stop it. I'd say it's not anywhere near "bland", far from a generic treatment of the journey of the hero/savior of the world. We talked about it some in my senior seminar class in Literature, fun times.

I will agree that the concept > the execution, though. He's not a BAD writer, but there's much better, and I'd say his universe is more fascinating abstractly than concretely in how it's portrayed by his writing.
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failsafeman
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:27 pm 
 

Oh, I didn't mean to say Paul's path was bland, rather that Paul himself was pretty bland. Yeah, he wrestled with it a little, but I just think the whole concept of some pseudo-European guy waltzing into a pseudo-Arabic culture and being SO AWESOME that they toss aside their entire cultural hierarchy to make him their Messiah, and follow him blindly. It's a lazy, Euro-centric, and borderline offensive plot device to give Paul an army with which he can challenge the Emperor. Granted Dune has good qualities, it's not entirely a wash, but there are TONS of sci-fi books out there that are just heaps better. Go read Lord of Light if you want eastern philosophy mixed with sci-fi.
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Abominatrix
Harbinger of Metal

Joined: Fri Oct 24, 2003 12:15 pm
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:29 pm 
 

Nahsil wrote:
I don't think that's entirely fair. Paul is a pretty interesting study in "the chosen one" because he wrestles with the notion a lot and the whole thing spirals out of control and at some point there's nothing he can do to stop it. I'd say it's not anywhere near "bland", far from a generic treatment of the journey of the hero/savior of the world. We talked about it some in my senior seminar class in Literature, fun times.

I will agree that the concept > the execution, though. He's not a BAD writer, but there's much better, and I'd say his universe is more fascinating abstractly than concretely in how it's portrayed by his writing.



Yeah, Failsafe, I don't really disagree, but you make it sound like Dune was no better than utter crap like Ender's Game. For me, though, the first DUne book was a masterpiece (for the time at which I read the thing) and I enjoyed everything up to the fourth novel to varying degrees. I started to have a problem with the series way back in Dune Messiah. The resolution of that story is, um, a bit problematic, and I was always kind of annoyed with Paul's decision to kill himself rather than prove that he could move beyond the unfortunate circumstances he was subjected to. I realise that the purpose of Herbert's narrative wasn't necessarily to prove that a disabled person can overcome adversity, but it still kind of annoyed me. At the same time though it was rat her funny as Dune Messiah had some of the best writing of the whole series. Still, there's no denying what a huge impact the first book in particular had on my life at a rather young age.
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failsafeman
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:37 pm 
 

Well sure, it's not nearly as bad as Ender's Game, but it follows that same plot structure to a T.

1) Generic adolescent male is naturally awesome, is told by everyone around him that he's naturally awesome, and is told he has a SUPER IMPORTANT DESTINY that only he can fulfill.

2) Generic adolescent male faces adversity at the hands of cartoonishly evil people who don't want to see him achieve his super important destiny.

3) Generic adolescent male achieves super important destiny anyway due to extremely convenient plot circumstances, and totally shows everyone who was trying to stop him. He scores a hot babe along the way, not because he really did anything but just because he's so naturally awesome. The End.
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Nahsil
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:46 pm 
 

failsafeman wrote:
Oh, I didn't mean to say Paul's path was bland, rather that Paul himself was pretty bland. Yeah, he wrestled with it a little, but I just think the whole concept of some pseudo-European guy waltzing into a pseudo-Arabic culture and being SO AWESOME that they toss aside their entire cultural hierarchy to make him their Messiah, and follow him blindly. It's a lazy, Euro-centric, and borderline offensive plot device to give Paul an army with which he can challenge the Emperor. Granted Dune has good qualities, it's not entirely a wash, but there are TONS of sci-fi books out there that are just heaps better. Go read Lord of Light if you want eastern philosophy mixed with sci-fi.


I was so young when I read it for the first time that I didn't even PICK UP on the cultural undertones, heh. But yes, Paul himself is kind of nondescript, seems a bit like a placeholder character.

I did lose a little bit of respect for Herbert when I heard he was opposed to Maiden's "To Tame a Land." What a lameass.

I've been meaning to read Lord of Light, it's on my list. Also, I enjoyed Speaker for the Dead more than EG. I can't actually remember that much about it now, but I was pretty moved by it emotionally at the time.
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Under_Starmere
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 8:09 pm 
 

@failsafe Not trying to start up a Dune apologist war or anything, but it's worth pointing out that Paul Atreides wasn't just "naturally awesome," he was the product of a protracted eugenicist breeding program designed to produce human beings with supernormal mental and physical capabilities and was the beneficiary of the highest-quality military training and schooling his civilization had to offer. It's kind of reductionist to say that he's just some arbitrary golden boy or something... he was intentionally moulded to be a hyper-human. And as such he's anything but "generic"... Also, he didn't not do anything to get where he did, he did all kinds of shit that impressed the hell out of the Fremen and almost got him killed in the process. Just taking the other side of the argument here. Anyway, I've only read the first two books so I can't speak to the quality of the rest of the series.
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Scorntyrant
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 8:43 pm 
 

Yeah, if you read Dune carefully, there is heaps of material about the eugenics program - ie that Feyd Rautha Harkonnen is also a result of this program, as is the Imperial ambassador.

As for the "pseudo-arabic" thing, that's REALLY missing the point. Herbert had a bee in his bonnet about extreme natural selection - see "The Dosadi experiment" for another example. Both the Fremen and the Sardoukar are the result of this plot device (ie both Arrakis and Salusa Secondus are so extreme in their conditions that they breed an equivalently hardass but morally ambivalent population), which is one of the underlying themes of the book as a whole.
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failsafeman
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 9:13 pm 
 

Under_Starmere wrote:
@failsafe Not trying to start up a Dune apologist war or anything, but it's worth pointing out that Paul Atreides wasn't just "naturally awesome," he was the product of a protracted eugenicist breeding program designed to produce human beings with supernormal mental and physical capabilities and was the beneficiary of the highest-quality military training and schooling his civilization had to offer. It's kind of reductionist to say that he's just some arbitrary golden boy or something... he was intentionally moulded to be a hyper-human. And as such he's anything but "generic"... Also, he didn't not do anything to get where he did, he did all kinds of shit that impressed the hell out of the Fremen and almost got him killed in the process. Just taking the other side of the argument here. Anyway, I've only read the first two books so I can't speak to the quality of the rest of the series.

What I mean by "naturally" awesome is that he didn't earn his skills in reasonable ways. He was simply genetically engineered to be great, in the same way Harry Potter was born a wizard - yes, I know he trained with his mother Jessica, but that still doesn't count as "earning" his skills in a narrative sense. By "generic" I meant in terms of his character. Remember, we're not just talking in-world stuff here, we're talking narrative structure. Frank Herbert did a decent job of constructing an in-world explanation for why Paul Atreides was naturally awesome, as would any decent author trying to write that kind of "adolescent boy saves the day" story - that doesn't change the fact that he's still writing that kind of story.

Scorntyrant wrote:
As for the "pseudo-arabic" thing, that's REALLY missing the point. Herbert had a bee in his bonnet about extreme natural selection - see "The Dosadi experiment" for another example. Both the Fremen and the Sardoukar are the result of this plot device (ie both Arrakis and Salusa Secondus are so extreme in their conditions that they breed an equivalently hardass but morally ambivalent population), which is one of the underlying themes of the book as a whole.

Dude, it's not missing the point at all. I know all about Herbert's fixation on natural selection, and I've read the Dosadi Experiment twice, as a matter of fact. If you can't see the similarities between the fremen and Arabs then I just don't even know what to tell you. I mean the book even has the Fremen using explicitly Arabic words, like jihad, Mahdi, etc. Mahdi is the literal prophesied messiah of Islam, and if you remember, that's what they call Paul Atreides.
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Morrigan
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2013 1:33 am 
 

I find your summary of Dune's story to be absurdly reductionist too, but whatever.
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inhumanist
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2013 4:15 am 
 

I still don't see what's wrong with being "naturally" awesome. Not every book has to be about the American way to success, so to speak.

Science fiction is a genre for thought experiments, setting premises and exploring their consequences. What if prescience was possible? It couldn't be a clear vision of a certain future because that would cause time paradoxes. Herbert describes it as a stream of causal uncertainty that is near impossible to grasp and interpret. Paul being the only person able to successfully practice prescience is confronted with the fact that achieving his goals against impossible odds means sacrificing everything. That's a lot of tragic conflict right there.

Not saying it is the central theme of the books - there are a number of interesting concepts they explore.

Of course if you are a grumpy person it is only a lame plot device.
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failsafeman
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2013 5:28 am 
 

inhumanist wrote:
I still don't see what's wrong with being "naturally" awesome. Not every book has to be about the American way to success, so to speak.

It's a question of degree. Obviously in just about any fantasy or science fiction story with a hero, the hero is going to be awesome at something eventually, if not right away. My problem is that Paul is awesome at EVERYTHING, without really having to work for it, except for some hand-waving about training that happens off-page for the most part. He's super intelligent, he's great at fighting, and he is the ONLY male trained in the Bene Gesserit ways. Then he becomes the ONLY male to survive the Water of Life, and the only person to gain both male and female ancestral memories. Then he's handed command of an entire planet of people because they conveniently have a prophecy that says he's the messiah. He's great at everything and has essentially no weaknesses. Why? Because eugenics! Remember, he is also fifteen at the start of the book.

This just craps all over my suspension of disbelief, as well as my ability and desire to relate to the protagonist - Paul would have been a much more interesting and much more relatable character if he'd had some human flaws to balance out the ridiculous number of things he was awesome at. Maybe in the form of some sort of physical disability (I know he was eventually blinded, but only for a little while before he died) or character flaws. Instead he's basically perfect in every way, and not even well-written besides that. Blech.
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Azmodes
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2013 5:34 am 
 

talvikki77 wrote:
Sorry it took me so long to get back to you! I wanted to know what you thought about the protomolecule. I was kind of thrown off when they discovered the girl and when the "vomit zombies" started happening (being vague in case anyone else plans on reading it). I guess because everything up till then had been so gritty, realistic and plausible, and besides for inventing weapons and methods of space travel, that was the first time they swerved hard into space fantasy territory. I know hardly anything about life sciences, but the whole thing seemed much more farfetched than the rest of the book. But still a great book for the characters, action and worldbuilding.

Yes, I suppose that's sort of throwing a curve ball in terms of sci-fi hardness compared to the rest of the book, but to be frank it didn't bother me. Besides, if I remember correctly, how it works is only vaguely hinted at (and less vaguely at how people in-universe still don't really understand it, hence Eros). I just filed it away as intelligent alien mutagenic grey goo or somesuch contrivance and speculating about its originally intended function, its creators and its eventual development was enough for me to keep things interesting amidst the other narratives and dynamics going on. Considering the speculated origins of the protomolecule at the time (and what the third book has revealed so far), I was perfectly willing to invoke Arthur C. Clarke's adage about advanced technology and magic and such.
Spoiler: show
Though for some reason, the capabilities and nigh-invulnerability of the supersoldiers in the second book were pushing it for me.


talvikki77 wrote:
I finished reading Caliban's War a couple weeks ago and made some notes for a review, but haven't typed it up yet, oops. It's slower in spots than Leviathan, but the characters are still great, as is the action once it gets going. You will find out more about Earth, if you haven't already :)

Oh, I'm almost through Abaddon's Gate now. Caliban's War took indeed a tad more time, but I enjoyed it as much as the first part. I liked the newly introduced characters and the light they shed on the rest of the setting. I do think the writers are quite good at creating relatable characters and moving the POV structuring fluidly through the plot and vice versa. Different characters start interacting and sharing the same events quite early on in each book, so that's also a plus for pacing for me since when one chapter ends with a semi-cliffhanger you don't have to groan and finish another one which is mostly disconnected from the previous chapter and might interest you less but merely jump into the action through the eyes of another protagonist. This is hardly anything new, but these books don't reserve converging (most) character arcs (solely) for the climax. And it works without destroying suspense or anything.
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Scorntyrant
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 13, 2013 6:47 am 
 

Haha, Hail the Kwisatz Marysue!

I guess now that I think about it more, I see the Arab motifs in Dune as being not entirely as they seem at first glance. On the one hand, there is a certain amount of pastiche and riffing on Lawrence of Arabia going on. On the other, I think you need to bear in mind how much Paul's success with the Fremen relies on quite cynical manipulation of the Missionaria having been on Arakis and "seeded" the culture with tropes potentially useful to the Bene Gesserit. There are quite a number, IIRC, or strange mentions of the completely garbled nature of terran-derived religion in Dune - "the orange catholic bible" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_Catholic_Bible) for instance.

Ultimately though, there are a lot of ways in which you are right. Dune is a world-building exercise, and the characterisations are generally pretty poor. I don't think the Deus ex Machina elements are overwhelming though.
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failsafeman
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 1:45 am 
 

Sure, there are in-world explanations for much of what happens in Dune. Herbert may have written a Mary Sue type protagonist, but he did do a decent job of at least providing some sort of explanation for why he's like that.

Honestly though, I do really like the worldbuilding in Dune; it's very good, and he clearly put a lot of effort into it. I just wish he'd fleshed out the characters more and written a less cliche story for it. It's similar to a lot of "classic" American sci-fi from the 60s and 70s in terms of what its strengths and weaknesses are. Ringworld for example has some very interesting worldbuilding, but a rather boring plot and shallow characters.
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Nahsil
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 2:02 am 
 

A lot of the classic scifi writers just weren't as strong in the realm of "literary characterization" as they were scientific extrapolation and visionary imagination.

I think Le Guin writes some good characters though.
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Scorntyrant
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 4:59 am 
 

Nahsil wrote:
A lot of the classic scifi writers just weren't as strong in the realm of "literary characterization" as they were scientific extrapolation and visionary imagination.

I think Le Guin writes some good characters though.


Agreed on both points. Although what we are getting into here is the debate about the distinction (if any) between science fiction and speculative fiction. A lot of that is due to the stigma which Sci-fi has among "legit" literary circles. This is such that when a "legit" author writes a sci-fi novel, either they, their publisher or the critics want to label it "speculative fiction" to distinguish it from "robots and spaceships" or "musclemen and maidens" for sci-fi and fantasy respectively.

I have to say that I never did well with "Hard SF" - (Azimov, Clarke etc). While the ideas were sometimes interesting, there was too much of a focus on the science and not enough on the fiction. I'm happy to accept interstellar travel, robots etc as a "deux ex" element in a plot, so long as the plot illustrates an interesting point of view about something. I don't need to know how it works, as long as the suspension of disbelief is viable. Similarly, I'm not all that concerned about rip-roaring action packed plots. I'm quite at home with quite internally focused works with meditative pacing.

So in that respect, in conversation, I'm more likely to come down in favour of, say, Le Guin or Margaret Atwood over most hard SF writers, particularly the earlier ones. And on that level,I think it's a shame that so little of Dune, as a novel, is convincing in its characterisations. The universe is so completely OTHER that it's a shame the description of that otherness does not extend to the inner lives of the characters. I think this might be why Gene Wolfe made such an impression on me just recently - I think he captures both sides of that coin.
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Azmodes
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 5:23 am 
 

failsafeman wrote:
Ringworld for example has some very interesting worldbuilding, but a rather boring plot and shallow characters.

Hoboy, does it ever. That book really put me off from reading more Niven. Well, it and The Mote in God's Eye he co-wrote with Jerry Pournelle. Same problem, intriguing setting and concept but spoiled by atrocious non-characters and an incoherent, tepid plot.
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talvikki77
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:25 pm 
 

Azmodes wrote:
Yes, I suppose that's sort of throwing a curve ball in terms of sci-fi hardness compared to the rest of the book, but to be frank it didn't bother me. Besides, if I remember correctly, how it works is only vaguely hinted at (and less vaguely at how people in-universe still don't really understand it, hence Eros). I just filed it away as intelligent alien mutagenic grey goo or somesuch contrivance and speculating about its originally intended function, its creators and its eventual development was enough for me to keep things interesting amidst the other narratives and dynamics going on. Considering the speculated origins of the protomolecule at the time (and what the third book has revealed so far), I was perfectly willing to invoke Arthur C. Clarke's adage about advanced technology and magic and such.
Spoiler: show
Though for some reason, the capabilities and nigh-invulnerability of the supersoldiers in the second book were pushing it for me.

I had to look up that Arthur C. Clarke quote. Quite apt. (And personally, rather reassuring - I'm going to embark on writing a space opera novella this fall, but really have no idea how to write about epic space battles. But I'm sure I can come up with something as least as good as Star Trek, though maybe not as good as these guys :P)

Quote:
Oh, I'm almost through Abaddon's Gate now. Caliban's War took indeed a tad more time, but I enjoyed it as much as the first part. I liked the newly introduced characters and the light they shed on the rest of the setting. I do think the writers are quite good at creating relatable characters and moving the POV structuring fluidly through the plot and vice versa. Different characters start interacting and sharing the same events quite early on in each book, so that's also a plus for pacing for me since when one chapter ends with a semi-cliffhanger you don't have to groan and finish another one which is mostly disconnected from the previous chapter and might interest you less but merely jump into the action through the eyes of another protagonist. This is hardly anything new, but these books don't reserve converging (most) character arcs (solely) for the climax. And it works without destroying suspense or anything.

I have Abaddon's Gate in a big stack of library books, but the books by Hannu Rajaniemi are due back earlier, so I need to finish those first. (I've pretty much gotten over my qualms about all his made-up words/technology, and am getting into the story.) And I still haven't written that review of Caliban's War :( I have a break from concerts for a couple weeks, though, so I should get it done..

Spoiler: show
I was so relieved when Avasarala got on that spaceship and joined up with Holden and co. Early in the book, there were several times I was tempted to skip an Avasarala chapter to get back to Holden, Prax or Bobbie. Less so as the book went on, though, and I ended up being quite fond of her by the end.

But in general, besides a little in the beginning, there weren't too many of those annoying cliffhangers.

Anyway, looking forward to reading the third book and finding out what happens to the characters.
Spoiler: show
And finding out what the heck that giant squid thing that emerged out of Venus is. Now that was a cliffhanger.


To add my two cents to the Dune discussion, that book was pretty formative for me in terms of how worldbuilding should be done, particularly a comment (now I can't remember where I saw or heard it) that as he talks about the world (or universe), he seems to be just skimming the surface, hinting that there is more, but just dropping little details here and there (that's way paraphrased based on how I've understood it all these years). As far as the story, I remember it being exciting enough, and Paul being fairly relatable, although Baron Harkonnen seemed a bit excessively repugnant. But then again, I read it a couple times in high school and have not read it since then. I can definitely see how nowadays, the whole Euro-like messiah in an Arab-like world would not go over well.

Oddly enough, though, when I wanted to write a paper about messianic figures in Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land, it was Stranger... that my teacher took exception to and not Dune. I ended up having to write about prescience in Dune and Foundation instead, which I thought a much weaker topic.

And as for the Ender's Game saga, while as an adolescent I found the first book infinitely more exciting than the rest of the tetralogy (I'm not including all the extra books about Bean and Peter and so on; of those I only read the one about Bean), looking back on it as an adult, the last three books are more profound. Particularly the books toward the end (I don't recall exactly what happens in each book, but I do remember the last book, Children of the Mind, was quite weighty) do the heavy lifting and tell the story that Orson Scott Card supposedly really wanted to tell (he said/wrote somewhere that Ender's Game was originally supposed to be just a short story that leads up to the other three books). At the time, I thought the books were an interesting exploration of how alien species might be drastically different from us and how our misconceptions might fuel needless conflict with them.
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failsafeman
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 5:11 pm 
 

Nahsil wrote:
A lot of the classic scifi writers just weren't as strong in the realm of "literary characterization" as they were scientific extrapolation and visionary imagination.

I think Le Guin writes some good characters though.

Yes, Le Guin was from that same general era too and she was decent enough at characterization, as were Philip K Dick, Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock, and especially Algis Budrys. Rogue Moon was essentially 90% characterization, and while it was kind of rough here and there, it was very interesting at the same time. Even back then there were plenty of sci-fi authors who wrote good characters. However, they were all pretty unequivocally "soft" SF.

Back then those seemed to be the two major "camps" of SF fans. I remember reading about how the hard fans would give authors shit for things like writing about planets with an impossible number of moons, or suns of impossible colors for the planet's environment, or failing to work out feasible orbits for planets orbiting binary stars, that kind of thing. I'm not huge into modern sci-fi, but these days everything seems much more blended, and I'm not sure even hard sci-fi fans would let their favorite latter-day authors get away with such shoddy characterization and plotting.

talvikki77 wrote:
Azmodes wrote:
I was perfectly willing to invoke Arthur C. Clarke's adage about advanced technology and magic and such.
I had to look up that Arthur C. Clarke quote. Quite apt.

Not to give you guys shit, but I hear that Clarke quote all the time and it really bugs me. It sounds a lot pithier than it actually is. The quote is, of course, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." The problem with that is it manages to miss the fundamental, intrinsic difference between technology and magic (as it's usually presented, anyway). Technology, by definition, works for everyone - if you went to the year 800, showed a peasant a pistol, it might seem magical to him, but it wouldn't be. If you gave it to him and and explained how to use it, he would be able to without any trouble. Magic, on the other hand, is nearly always tied to who is using it - in LOTR, for example, Gandalf could have handed Frodo his staff and told him some magic words, but Frodo wouldn't suddenly be equally as powerful as Gandalf. Obviously there are many different takes on the mechanics of magic, but there is nearly always some aspect of its use that is intrinsic to the user. It reflects the occult principle of As Above, So Below, namely that by affecting the microcosm of self through ritual, a wizard could affect the macrocosm of greater reality. Technology and science are necessarily usable by anyone who has the knowledge to do so.
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Morrigan
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 6:46 pm 
 

I think you're missing the point of the quote. As you said, the gun would seem like magic to the ignorant peasant, which is exactly what Clarke is getting at.
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failsafeman
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 8:19 pm 
 

That may very well be what Clarke was getting at, but that's not what Clarke said, and not how many people interpret the quote. Regardless, it's a pretty useless thing to say.
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Nahsil
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 14, 2013 9:56 pm 
 

Ender's Game WAS a short story. Expanded into a book.
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RedMisanthrope
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 15, 2013 2:01 pm 
 

Raided a going out of business sale at a local bookstore yesterday. I usually feel bad about things like that, but every book in the store for a dollar? How could I resist? I had to do some digging because there was A LOT of Nora Roberts, Koontz, and other paper backs you would find at a grocery store checkout line, but I managed to get away with these: "Light in August" by Faulkner, The Iliad, "Bonfire of the Vanities" by Tom Wolfe (whom I've avoided for a long time because I get the feeling he's one of those contemporary American authors that I can't stand) and the Illuminatus! Trilogy. Not a bad haul.
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Abominatrix
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 15, 2013 2:55 pm 
 

Other golden age SF authors that weren't so light on character: C. M. Kornbluth, Frederick Pohl, H. Beam Piper and, maybe, CLifford Simmack (haven't read too much of him yet but the stories in City seem to be largely based on how characters interact in an extraordinarily isolationist future. Oh, and of course, Fritz Leiber. ;)
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Nahsil
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 15, 2013 7:34 pm 
 

Illuminatus! Trilogy is classic.

I tried reading Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Meh.

I started Urth of the New Sun a few weeks ago, just the very beginning because I'm distracted by all these psychology books I bought, but the few scenes I read have been stuck in my head ever since. That fucking evocative imagery!
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talvikki77
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 16, 2013 4:35 pm 
 

failsafeman wrote:
Back then those seemed to be the two major "camps" of SF fans. I remember reading about how the hard fans would give authors shit for things like writing about planets with an impossible number of moons, or suns of impossible colors for the planet's environment, or failing to work out feasible orbits for planets orbiting binary stars, that kind of thing. I'm not huge into modern sci-fi, but these days everything seems much more blended, and I'm not sure even hard sci-fi fans would let their favorite latter-day authors get away with such shoddy characterization and plotting.

Is there even a clear distinction between hard SF/soft SF/space opera these days? I'm not super well read in SF (mostly because I've had hardly any time to read since college, it's pretty sad) but of the few things I have been reading that are recent (James S.A. Corey, Ben Bova..there are probably a couple others I can't think of at the moment) nothing is what I would call truly hard science fiction. The science takes a back seat a little; there's advanced technology (like interplanetary travel) that just works, seemingly magically (to go back to the Arthur C. Clarke quote), so that the characters can have grand adventures in space.

Of course I may just be reading the wrong things :P Does anyone have any current hard SF authors they'd recommend?

failsafeman wrote:
Not to give you guys shit, but I hear that Clarke quote all the time and it really bugs me. It sounds a lot pithier than it actually is. The quote is, of course, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." The problem with that is it manages to miss the fundamental, intrinsic difference between technology and magic (as it's usually presented, anyway). Technology, by definition, works for everyone - if you went to the year 800, showed a peasant a pistol, it might seem magical to him, but it wouldn't be. If you gave it to him and and explained how to use it, he would be able to without any trouble. Magic, on the other hand, is nearly always tied to who is using it - in LOTR, for example, Gandalf could have handed Frodo his staff and told him some magic words, but Frodo wouldn't suddenly be equally as powerful as Gandalf. Obviously there are many different takes on the mechanics of magic, but there is nearly always some aspect of its use that is intrinsic to the user. It reflects the occult principle of As Above, So Below, namely that by affecting the microcosm of self through ritual, a wizard could affect the macrocosm of greater reality. Technology and science are necessarily usable by anyone who has the knowledge to do so.

Hm. I never thought about it that way. I think anyone asserting that advanced technology is magic is misinterpreting the quote, but it is a bit vaguely worded.

Now, what about magical products that pretty much anyone can use? In particular, I'm thinking of the bikes with magic-powered engines in Terri Windling's Bordertown, or any number of items in Piers Anthony books. Is that magic-powered technology? One could still say it must take some intrinsic ability to assemble a magic-powered engine, but is that so very different from the technical aptitude and learned skills it takes to assemble a combustion-powered engine?
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Diamhea
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 17, 2013 1:55 am 
 

I would say I love reading JRR Tolkien, which I do, but LOTR has become so big of a fad due to the films, with so many millions of overnight "experts" that I don't even like telling people I'm a fan anymore.
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Nahsil
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 17, 2013 3:45 am 
 

Diamhea wrote:
I would say I love reading JRR Tolkien, which I do, but LOTR has become so big of a fad due to the films, with so many millions of overnight "experts" that I don't even like telling people I'm a fan anymore.


One of the biggest steps in the journey of a metalhead is getting over contrarianism, in my experience.
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Xlxlx
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:37 pm 
 

Finished American Gods. It was an enjoyable read. It became a bit too confusing towards the end, with many a reveal one after the other, but I liked it. It had a truly surreal, dream like atmosphere at times, and Gaiman successfully captured the urban feeling he was going for. Money well spent, if you ask me.
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Nahsil
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 20, 2013 11:11 pm 
 

http://i64.photobucket.com/albums/h175/ ... 2eb10b.jpg

thrift store haul. Mix of science fiction, evolutionary biology/anthropology/neuroscience, religious literature...

$11 total.

seen you guys talk about Jack Vance, looking forward to reading that one.
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Aurone
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 20, 2013 11:39 pm 
 

Not sure if anyone knew but today marks the 123rd birthday of HP Lovecraft.

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failsafeman
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 21, 2013 1:32 am 
 

Pretty good haul, Nahsil. Childhood's End was actually the first Arthur C Clarke book I ever read, way back in middle school I think. It's really not all that good, honestly, kind of disjointed in that it's split up into three sections with three different protagonists at different points in time. None of them are all that interesting, their main purpose being to serve as witnesses to the big events that happen. As usual for Clarke's brand of sci-fi, it's very matter-of-fact, and written as if it were about real events, so there's not much drama or conflict or anything. The star is obviously the Big Ideas, which are very similar to the Big Ideas in 2001, but with a more developed framework. Really it reads like a novelization of a small section of Last and First Men, but not a very good one.
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Ancient_Sorrow
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 21, 2013 6:29 am 
 

Recently finished reading a book on Nietzsche's ethics - namely On the Genealogy of Morals, but also a guide and companion to his work on that area in general. Having finished, I can safely say that I've gotten far more out of the subject than I would have necessarily gotten had I just read the actual text.

Currently moving on to Kierkegaard - finished the first two parts of Fear and Trembling last night. Didn't really have a clue what he was talking about until I retrospectively pieced it together by reading a few summaries of it.

Also resuming reading the Bible; I'd put it on hold for a while because I was getting bored with the tedious carry on in the desert somewhere between Noah and Moses.

On the side, I'm reading Worldwar: In the Balance, by Harry Turtledove, which is a sci-fi/alternative history in which Aliens invade during the second world war; it's told through a lot of narrators, which isn't a style I've read in a long while.
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FlaPack
Metal newbie

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 21, 2013 10:09 am 
 

Nahsil wrote:
http://i64.photobucket.com/albums/h175/Ensiferum_photos/IMAG0752_zps142eb10b.jpg

thrift store haul. Mix of science fiction, evolutionary biology/anthropology/neuroscience, religious literature...

$11 total.

seen you guys talk about Jack Vance, looking forward to reading that one.


What's the black one with no dust jacket?

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Nahsil
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 21, 2013 12:09 pm 
 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Psychotherapi ... 0765703025
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Azmodes
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 25, 2013 9:00 am 
 

failsafeman wrote:
That may very well be what Clarke was getting at, but that's not what Clarke said, and not how many people interpret the quote. Regardless, it's a pretty useless thing to say.

I think it's pretty obvious what he meant by it. "indistinguishable from magic" as in "any beings sufficiently below that level of advancement perceive it as magical/naturally impossible by their understanding". This is the first time I've seen anyone talking about interpreting it that literally, taking the copula verb as stating absolute fact and not a relative perception. How is it a useless thing to say? I always thought it was a simple yet compelling aphorism.

talvikki77 wrote:
Spoiler: show
I was so relieved when Avasarala got on that spaceship and joined up with Holden and co. Early in the book, there were several times I was tempted to skip an Avasarala chapter to get back to Holden, Prax or Bobbie. Less so as the book went on, though, and I ended up being quite fond of her by the end.

Yep, that's exactly what I meant with the POV thing. Storylines connect rather swiftly, but nothing's rushed. Avasarala's gruffness and such felt a bit forced at first, like they just needed an ultra-cynical political player, but I as well grew to like her. There was a different side entirely to her, after all.

talvikki77 wrote:
Spoiler: show
And finding out what the heck that giant squid thing that emerged out of Venus is. Now that was a cliffhanger.

Not to worry.
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