Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

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Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Thu Aug 25, 2011 3:16 pm

I previously put up a short write-up and strong plug for Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, and given that I read a lot, I thought I'd periodically add short reviews of whatever I've been reading.

Lately, I just finished Escape From Hell, which Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle's 2009 sequel to their 1976 novel Inferno. Inferno was a modern rewrite of Dante's Inferno, updated with modern sins and with a science-fiction writer named Allen Carpenter as the narrator who literally goes through Hell, guided by a man named Benito.

For those who haven't read Inferno (either one), it's an epic poem that describes Dante's journey through Hell, with the poet Virgil as his guide. Hell is organized into nine concentric and descending circles, with the more grievous sinners occupying lower levels. The punishments that one endures in Dante's Hell are poetic in the sense that they reflect the nature of the sin. Fortune tellers, for example, are forced to walk forward while their faces face backwards (as indication of their false claims to see the future). Lusters float in the air and are constantly buffeted from rockface to rockface by wind. Dante put lots of historical and myth personalities into his Hell, and they reflect his Italian background; thus, many Greek warriors from the Trojan War (Achilles, Odysseus, Diomedes) find themselves in Hell -- after all, Rome was supposedly founded by one of the few survivors from the Trojan side.

Hell is timeless, but in the Niven/Pournelle version, Carpenter died in 1975 (falling out of a building while drunk at a sci-fi convention), so he doesn't know what's been going on in our world in the 34 years since. 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, for example. When more recent arrivals in Hell try to explain Islamic terrorism/suicide bombing and 9/11, Carpenter is quite confused about the motivations.

One thing that struck me as kind of funny about Escape From Hell is how it allowed the authors to indulge in subtle (or not so subtle) political commentary. There are a lot of people, mostly fictional but some real, from New Orleans, put in Hell because of their role in looking the other way regarding the levees, etc. Other unnamed denizens are there for their role in pushing for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But there are also lots of real people in Niven & Pournelle's Hell, like Anna Nicole Smith, the Virginia Tech shooter, Jesse Unruh (former California politician whom the authors accuse of starting the destruction of California's public school system out of greed/power lust), Carl Sagan (whom they mock for decrying global cooling in the 1970s before switching to global warming in the 1990s), Melvin Belli (a famous California lawyer known as the King of Torts), and that TV sales guy who was always yelling that your mattress will be "freeeeee!," among others. Each encounter gives the characters an opportunity to reflect on why such person is in Hell.

I wouldn't say Escape From Hell is a particularly good book, as it's largely an update of Inferno without the visceral power of the original (Niven & Pournelle version, that is). It lacks the power and horror of the original, but it is kind of entertaining.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Tue Aug 30, 2011 4:36 pm

I read a couple of mystery/thrillers back-to-back, and here are some quick thoughts. Both are the latest or nearly the latest in series, so if the description sounds intriguing, I wouldn't necessarily start with these.

1) Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Cold Vengeance - This is the second novel in a planned trilogy, but the main character, FBI Special Agent Pendergast, has been in many more of the authors' books, dating all the way back to 1995's The Relic. (Curiously, Pendergast was completely absent from the movie version!) Anyway, Preston & Child specialize in techno-thrillers, sometimes with a touch of the seemingly occult. Brimstone, for example, had Pendergast investigating a series of deaths where it looked like the victims spontaneously burned to death, as if cursed by the Devil. Cold Vengeance picks up directly after Fever Dream, in which Pendergast discovered that his beloved wife Helen's death 12 years ago (she was eaten by a lion!) was no accident, and he unravels the conspiracy in which she got herself entangled. However, unknown to him, what he unraveled was only the tip of the conspiracy. As this is number 2 in the "Helen trilogy," be warned that it basically ends in a cliffhanger.

Preston & Child are remarkably consistent authors (with the exception of their new series involving Gideon Crew, which really sucked), so even the subpar Pendergast novels are pretty good. Still, I wouldn't put this one at the top of the list. It had a fair amount of action, and it was pageturning, but it didn't have the tension and chills that their better works do. The Relic is probably the best place to start, but others of their books that I liked a lot have been Brimstone, The Book of the Dead, Still Life With Crows, Riptide, and Mount Dragon.

2) Jim Butcher, Changes - This is the 12th novel involving private detective/wizard Harry Dresden, who lives in Chicago amidst a secret world of magicians, vampires (3 kinds!), werewolves, and other supernatural beings. You may recall a SciFi Channel series titled "The Dresden Files"; it was based on this series of books. This book won't make any sense unless you've read the preceding books, but what I'll say about the series is that it's a pretty good job of world-building. There are fairly well-defined rules to the magic and monsters, and Dresden is your typical wisecracking PI. To give you a sense of the imagination and world-building, there are, as I noted, three kinds of vampires: White Court (or House of Raith), Red Court, and Black Court. The White vampires are the most charismatic ones, and they don't feed on blood; rather, they take life force. However, they are the most seductive and are virtually irresistable. The Black vampires are the ones closest to what we normally think of in fiction. The Red vampires look human, but it's really a mask; they're pretty grotesque underneath, slimy bat-like creatures with bulging bellies full of blood. At different points, the human wizards are at war with the White and/or Red vampires.

If this sounds like it might be your cup of tea, the first in the series is Storm Front. As an aside, if any of you are into paranormal romance novels, you might like this. Or so I gather, because Amazon.com periodically recommends paranormal romance to me because of the Dresden novels. I don't quite see the connection, as there's not much romance in these novels, but whatever.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Mon Sep 05, 2011 1:38 am

Wow, I just finished Nelson DeMille's The Charm School, and what a knockout if you love Cold War era fiction. (I do -- it was in many ways, a simpler time, with clear enemies and somewhat civilized rules.) In this book, some U.S. embassy personnel in Moscow discover the existence of a secret Soviet facility where captured U.S. POWs are forced to "teach" KGB agents how to pass as Americans. There's a lot of intrigue and cat and mouse game between an Air Force intelligence officer and a KGB colonel in Moscow until the last third of the novel, in which the tension and action get ratcheted up to a super-intense level.

DeMille is already one of my favorite authors; I especially liked the writing in Plum Island, and The Charm School solidifies him in my view.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Manendra » Mon Sep 05, 2011 1:32 pm

I've read The Charm School several times, it's one of my favorite books. And yeah, I really like DeMille. His tendency for a sarcastic and pretty funny protagonist (Hollis in Charm School and that cop guy whose name escapes me in many other books) is something I really enjoy. Plus, like you said, the Charm School plot is great.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Mon Sep 05, 2011 2:02 pm

Manendra wrote:I've read The Charm School several times, it's one of my favorite books. And yeah, I really like DeMille. His tendency for a sarcastic and pretty funny protagonist (Hollis in Charm School and that cop guy whose name escapes me in many other books) is something I really enjoy. Plus, like you said, the Charm School plot is great.
The cop guy is John Corey, who's the main character in Plum Island, The Lion's Game, Nightfall, Wild Fire, and The Lion. I've read Plum Island and Wild Fire, and I'm starting The Lion's Game right now. The Corey plots are okay, but he's a hilarious narrator.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Mon Sep 12, 2011 3:07 pm

Well, I am currently on a Nelson DeMille read-a-thon, having just started Night Fall after finishing The Lion's Game. These are both novels featuring DeMille's smart-ass NYPD cop John Corey, first introduced in Plum Island. The novels turn toward international terrorism, and indeed, the first 100 pages of The Lion's Game are a pretty amazing set piece involving a 747 heading into JFK airport that refuses or is unable to engage in radio communication, and what ensures. . . . Let's just say it would make for a pretty excellent start for a season of "24" if that were still airing.

Anyway, since I'm going to be reading DeMille's stuff for a while, I thought I'd mention my first non-fiction book in this thread, which is False Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent. This book was written by Jim and Nancy Petro; Jim was the Attorney General of Ohio, and a law and order/former prosecutor/Republican who nevertheless bucked the trend by backing DNA testing to confirm or refute the claims of innocence by convicted defendants. Indeed, at one point, he found his office (AG) in conflict with a local prosecutor, as Petro was convinced that DNA testing had established that a convicted defendant was innocent, yet the prosecutor refused to accede to the request that the prisoner be released!

It's a compelling book that not only traces the evolution of Petro's thinking toward embracing DNA testing to also covering the major causes of wrongful convictions, including inaccurate eyewitness testimony, improper interrogation techniques, prosecutorial misconduct, and the like. For anyone interested in the American criminal justice system, this is a fascinating book.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Manendra » Mon Sep 12, 2011 6:21 pm

That sounds like something I would be interested in, as it gets to the heart of my opposition to capital punishment. Namely, that I'm unwilling to tolerate the execution of a single innocent person. And I just don't have that amount of confidence in the criminal justice system. As a native of Illinois, this whole sorry episode is something that sticks with me.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Mon Sep 12, 2011 7:12 pm

Manendra wrote:That sounds like something I would be interested in, as it gets to the heart of my opposition to capital punishment. Namely, that I'm unwilling to tolerate the execution of a single innocent person. And I just don't have that amount of confidence in the criminal justice system. As a native of Illinois, this whole sorry episode is something that sticks with me.
Ah, Manny, the book will provide fodder for you, but in fact, it goes beyond capital punishment. The cases that Petro ended getting involved in, whether intervening as AG or representing later on in a pro bono capacity after he left office, were not death sentences. It's about guys who served 8, 10 or 20+ years of incarceration terms before being exonerated. Or not, in one particularly shameful case.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Manendra » Tue Sep 13, 2011 5:46 pm

Reminds me of this characteristically excellent episode of This American Life. Took 21 years to get an innocent man out of jail.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Fri Sep 30, 2011 5:25 pm

I just finished, well, skimmed, really, Inventing Iron Man, which investigates the actual engineering, physics, and biology issues that would be involved in building a real life Iron Man suit. I'm a sucker for these "Science of [insert TV show/movie/etc.]" books, and while I was never a big Iron Man comic fan, I did enjoy the two Robert Downey, Jr. movies. Unfortunately, I found this book mildly tedious, and I'm not sure why. It should have been interesting, and it did cover real life examples well, but for whatever reason, my attention wandered. Let me put it this way: yes, I am a law nerd, and that provides some context, but I was more eager to read a new book about the decline of the American criminal justice system than this one. I had to force myself to finish this one first.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Sun Oct 23, 2011 10:42 pm

Some of the books I've finished reading in the past month:

Nelson DeMille, The Talbot Odyssey (1984): Ah, a Cold War era mole-hunt novel. I've noted before what an excellent writer I think DeMille is, and this is another winner. Like The Charm School, it's a U.S. vs. Soviet Union plot, but this one takes place entirely in the United States. Basically, a group of former Office of Strategic Services (OSS) -- the forerunner to the CIA -- operatives have gone into private practice, mostly lawyers, but they are continuing their World War II mission of finding and eliminating threats to the country. However, there is a mole amongst their generation, known only as Talbot, and so only the more recent recruits to the group are above suspicion. The main protagonists are an ex-NYPD cop (who bears more than passing resemblance in character to DeMille's most frequent character, John Corey) and a female lawyer. I'm not really doing justice to this book; it's got some intensely gripping scenes, with more than its share of twists and turns.

William Stuntz, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (2011): This is an amazing book for anyone (Manendra?) interested in understanding what's gone wrong with our criminal justice system; we imprison more people on a per capita basis than virtually any other country, and we're way above our "peer" nations. Stuntz concludes that the courts spend too much time policing criminal process, and not enough time policing the substantive criminal law. In other words, the Supreme Court has spend decades building up the panoply of constitutional rights that you get at trial, but this is of little use to 90% of criminal defendants, since about that many end up pleading guilty rather than going to trial. In addition, Stuntz thinks that we have too much centralized control over the criminal justice system. District attorneys, for example, are elected on a county-wide basis, which means the suburbs and inner cities both vote (and the former tend to have more voting power). However, most crime takes place in the inner city, so the suburbs can call for increasingly harsh punishment without feeling the impact of the broken families and ruined lives. He advocates for a return to the criminal justice system of the Northeast in the 1950s, where there was more local control.

E.E. "Doc" Smith, Masters of the Vortex (1960): Typical space opera of the era. It wasn't that special, and the only reason I picked it up and finished it was that it's technically part of the Lensmen series. It's short, though, so an easy read.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Sat Nov 12, 2011 6:07 pm

No doubt a number of you are aware of this book -- and indeed, may already be reading it -- but Neal Stephenson just published Reamde this fall. As with most of his works, this one is massive, checking in at over 1000 pages, which means you are in for his discursive tangeants. (Remember the discussion of the proper way to eat cereal in Cryptonomicon?)

I'm only about 1/3 of the way through, but I really like it so far. It's far more accessible than the Baroque Cycle, and more so than Anathem. Instead of number theory (the underlying framework of Cryptonomicon), scientific philosophy (Anathem), ecopollution (Zodiac), nanotechnology (The Diamond Age), or cyberspace (Snow Crash), Reamde hits closer to home for us -- it's about a World of Warcraft-like MMPORPG called T'Rain. Chinese hackers have figured out how to propagate a virus through the online game to take real world computers hostage. The ransom must then be paid in the T'Rain world . . . . The plot gets set in motion when a Russian mobster's "business" interests get held hostage, prompting said mobster to want to take out the hacker(s) responsible (and not in the take out on a date sense, ha ha).

Although there are parts that take part in the T'Rain world, there's much more about the theory and development of the game than the game playing itself, especially compared to Ready Player One. It's a little slow getting started, but once it gets going, it's pretty compelling.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Ceirdwyn » Sun Nov 13, 2011 9:29 am

Hmm I read Interface a year or so ago and really liked it - until Stephenson screwed up the ending. The new one sounds interesting though - maybe I'll get when I have finished my William Gibson phase...

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by bleary » Sun Nov 13, 2011 10:10 am

I should put that Stuntz on my wishlist. It was well-reviewed in the NYRB the other week, and I've been interested in over-criminalization since I took Crim Law from Doug Husak.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by slaphappy snark » Thu Nov 17, 2011 8:53 pm

Raccoon wrote:No doubt a number of you are aware of this book -- and indeed, may already be reading it -- but Neal Stephenson just published Reamde this fall. .
I just finished this last week. It's very well written and a good read, in my opinion, but the genre that it turns out to mostly fit into (I think) is one that I always mildly enjoy but never enough to seek out more. Because of this, I'm glad I'll get to hear what you think about it, Rac, as I think it's much more your cup of tea. Seriously, so much your cup of tea that you might hate it...

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Sat Nov 19, 2011 1:55 am

slaphappy snark wrote:I just finished [Reamde] last week. It's very well written and a good read, in my opinion, but the genre that it turns out to mostly fit into (I think) is one that I always mildly enjoy but never enough to seek out more. Because of this, I'm glad I'll get to hear what you think about it, Rac, as I think it's much more your cup of tea. Seriously, so much your cup of tea that you might hate it...
Up to page 640 now (it's getting near the end of the semester, so I'm busy writing/debugging my final exams, etc.). I do like the terrorism/thriller genre quite a bit, so not surprisingly, I am enjoying it quite a bit. However, it doesn't quite have as much of the science nerd DNA that made Cryptonomicon so awesome.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by thacon » Wed Dec 07, 2011 11:47 am

I'm reading the ebook, so I don't know about page numbers, but I'm 56% of the way through. This book is loooong. I go back and forth between finding it really fun and exciting and finding it overly verbose and ridiculous. I'm looking forward to discussing it when I'm done though.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Wed Dec 07, 2011 4:02 pm

Oh, I forgot about this thread. I finished it a couple of weeks ago, and since then, I've read some shorter novels worth mentioning -- Ghost Story by Jim Butcher, which continues the saga of Chicago wizard/detective Harry Dresden; and The Affair, by Lee Child, which is the latest Jack Reacher vigilante-a-thon.

I was quite entertained by Reamde and enjoyed Stephenson's discursiveness. That was about the only aspect of it that really bore his writing DNA, as this was otherwise a much easier book without heavy digressions into number theory or philosophy or whatever else. I don't think it was quite as good as Cryptonomicon, but that's a pretty high bar to reach.

Right now, I've started reading Kurt Eichenwald's The Informant, which is about the Archer Daniels Midland's (food company) conspiracy in the 1990s to engage in price-fixing of lysine, an amino acid used to bulk up animals for meat. It was the basis of the recent Matt Damon movie, although I get the sense the movie was semi-comic. Anyway, if you like legal thrillers, this is way up there, except it's non-fiction. It reads like a novel, though, as the author definitely uses the underlying source material (transcripts of recorded conversations, FBI agent reports, transcripts of court testimony) to create a narrative, as opposed to simply reciting what was said.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Tue Dec 13, 2011 12:39 am

Wowza, I just finished reading The Dark at the End, which is #15 in sci-fi/horror writer F. Paul Wilson's "Repairman Jack" series. Jack fixes people's problems in unofficial ways. But he's also increasingly drawn into a cosmic battle between the Ally and the Otherness. This isn't exactly good and evil, as the Ally is more or less indifferent to humanity. It just happens to be much less awful than what the Otherness would do to us if it gets control of the Earth. If you like non-religious supernatural horror-suspense, this series is something you should run to the bookstore/library for right away.

For those of you who've read some of Wilson's work, or are generally familiar with American horror fiction, The Keep is sort of the beginning of this overarching series (though not a Repairman Jack novel). It's pretty good in its own right: a squad of Nazi soldiers during World War II stops to rest in an old castle, and bad things start happening to them. . . . The Keep starts what has been called the Adversary Cycle -- 6 novels in total, the third of which is the first Repairman Jack book, The Tomb.

The last apocalyptic book is Nightworld, which picks up after The Dark at the End. Wilson actually published Nightworld in 1992 (before writing Repairman Jack #2-#15), so the current version doesn't mesh with the RJ books. There's a heavily revised version that's due next year. Let's just say that I'm dying to get to it. The Dark at the End is pretty spectacular -- tense, brutally violent in parts, and filled with a sense of dread and doom.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Sun Dec 25, 2011 3:07 am

Just finished Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games on my Kindle Fire -- it's available for borrowing if you have Amazon Prime. The premise of the novel is that in a post-collapse society in North America, kids are selected once a year for a kind of real-life Survivor combat to the death. The narrator, 16 year-old Katniss Everdeen, ends up being one of the contestants in the brutal game. Fortunately, she's skilled with a bow and arrow, hunting, and surviving in the wild. This was marketed as a "young adult" novel, but I found it a pretty compelling read. Not quite as majestic in scope as Harry Potter, but more violent and edgy in some ways.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by thacon » Sun Dec 25, 2011 7:06 am

I recently read the Hunger Games and found the premise compelling and mostly enjoyed it, but the whole time I kept thinking I would like it so much more if I were a 16 year old girl.

I also finally finished Reamde. The final 10% of that book was really exciting. It would make for a great movie.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by BC_Goldman » Fri Dec 30, 2011 9:32 am

Raccoon wrote:I just finished, well, skimmed, really, Inventing Iron Man, which investigates the actual engineering, physics, and biology issues that would be involved in building a real life Iron Man suit. I'm a sucker for these "Science of [insert TV show/movie/etc.]" books, and while I was never a big Iron Man comic fan, I did enjoy the two Robert Downey, Jr. movies.
You might be interested in checking out this one: http://www.amazon.com/Physics-Superhero ... 1592401465

I picked it up at a bargain bookstore. I haven't actually finished it but the parts I have read were pretty interesting. I need to dig it out and finish. Covers a lot of superheroes and answers some questions like how many cheeseburgers does the Flash need to eat to offset the calories he burns while running. What killed Gwen Stacy?

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Fri Dec 30, 2011 3:01 pm

BC_Goldman wrote:You might be interested in checking out this one: http://www.amazon.com/Physics-Superhero ... 1592401465

I picked it up at a bargain bookstore. I haven't actually finished it but the parts I have read were pretty interesting. I need to dig it out and finish. Covers a lot of superheroes and answers some questions like how many cheeseburgers does the Flash need to eat to offset the calories he burns while running. What killed Gwen Stacy?
I read that a couple of years ago and thought it was pretty good. It was more interesting to me than the Iron Man one.

On another note, I finished Patrick Lee's Deep Sky yesterday. This is the conclusion of a trilogy that starts with The Breach, and you really need to read that one first. The Breach is a mysterious one-way portal that sends periodic artifacts to our world. They're technological marvels -- for all intents and purposes, magical. Many are fairly useless, but some are quite powerful, and possibly malignant. But many are cool, like the one that copies any non-living thing(!). It's an action-packed present day sci-fi/thriller if you're into those sorts of things, which I am.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by NardoLoopa » Wed Jan 04, 2012 5:30 pm

/subscribe raccoon_reading_list

Okay, guess I have to hook up with The Breach now.

BTW: ever see "The Room". I think that's what it was called. A SciFi Channel movie, i think. Items from an other-dimensional hotel room have special properties -- most kinda silly (a watch that perfectly boils eggs). Worth looking for.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Wed Jan 04, 2012 6:44 pm

NardoLoopa wrote:/subscribe raccoon_reading_list

Okay, guess I have to hook up with The Breach now.

BTW: ever see "The Room". I think that's what it was called. A SciFi Channel movie, i think. Items from an other-dimensional hotel room have special properties -- most kinda silly (a watch that perfectly boils eggs). Worth looking for.
"The Lost Room"? I noticed it in advance of its airing, but I didn't watch it for some reason.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by NardoLoopa » Wed Jan 04, 2012 7:34 pm

yep, that's the one. Quirky and very good. Taub has a great role in the film.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Fri Jan 06, 2012 4:14 pm

I'm supposed to be in the middle of grading Criminal Procedure exams, so I haven't been doing much reading, but here are some books that I've received lately and might get around to reading:

Matt Ruff, The Mirage - looks like one of those weird parallel universe novels; in this one, Christian fundamentalists hijack four planes and crash them into buildings in the Middle East. Eight years later, Arab agents capture a Christian terrorist who tells them that the world is a mirage, and that in the real world, the West is the power, and the Middle East is a bunch of backwards Third World nations. I read Ruff's Sewer, Gas, and Electric many years ago and thought it was a clever thriller.

Leo Katz, Why the Law is So Perverse - Katz writes some of the most accessible law books for lay audiences. His Bad Acts and Guilty Minds does a great job of highlighting all kinds of conundrums about criminal law, like, say you decide to murder someone by poisoning his canteen water just before he goes off to hike in the desert. Unknown to you, someone else has decided to murder the same person by drilling a hole in his canteen, thereby draining all the water. The victim dies of thirst. Are you guilty of anything?
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Tue Jan 17, 2012 11:08 pm

Daniel Wilson's Robopocalypse got a lot of press last year. It's kind of like a mash-up of Philip K. Dick's short story "Second Variety" (filmed as Screamers) with Stephen King's short story "Trucks" (filmed as Maximum Overdrive) with The Planet of the Apes. In short, in the near future, machines rebel and attack humans! :shock:

It's told in an unusual style, with vignettes from different characters pieced together to tell the before, during, and after of the war. I'll give Wilson credit; the different vignettes do give a sense of the different personalities involved. Still, I was somewhat underwhelmed. For something so vast in scope, the book didn't really have anything of an epic feel. If anything, it felt kind of short and cramped. If I had paid for the book, I would've been disappointed. Fortunately, I borrowed it as an e-book from my local library.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Tue Jan 24, 2012 3:25 pm

I'm currently about halfway through John Birmingham's Without Warning (also borrowed as an e-book from the library). This is an epic thriller in which a mysterious event wipes out nearly all of the continental United States, most of Canada, and about half of Mexico, in 2003 on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. All that's left of the U.S. are Alaska, Hawaii, and Seattle, plus the military stationed overseas, ex-pats, and tourists in foreign countries. The story follows various characters: some American/British/etc. smugglers in the Caribbean; municipal officials in Seattle; military personnel in Hawaii, Guantanamo Bay, and Iraq/Kuwait; and an undercover agent in Paris. The brainchild of the novel was some women's comment (overheard by the author) that she wished the U.S. would simply disappear.

Voila, wish granted! In the author's view, however, what would follow is not peace and prosperity now that the ugly Americans are mostly gone. In part, that's because there are ecological and environmental disasters resulting from the destruction in North America. It's also due to the power vacuum that results.

I should note that the author is not American, but rather Australian. It shows: in the worst part of the book, he refers to "UCLA's Berkeley campus" . . . :evil: Despite that horrific gaffe, it's quite an engrossing read. The characterization is very good, and you feel the slow disintegration of the world.

EDIT: Finished this morning. The ending was mildly underwhelming, although I wouldn't say it fizzled. There is a sequel, After America, so perhaps the author rushed to end this one.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Wed Feb 01, 2012 1:58 am

One of those "if you liked X, you'll like Y" websites suggested Wil McCarthy's The Collapsium when I inputted Peter Hamilton's Pandora's Star (one of my favorite space operas), and I was able to borrow the e-book version from the library fairly quickly. It's space opera of a sort, but with fairly hard sci-fi relating to black holes and the like. The main character is a sort of genius-recluse who lives on a tiny planet he built himself, orbiting a tiny star that he created. He gets summoned to Earth because there's an imminent disaster involving the power network supply that he built. He solves the problem, but later, he gets summoned again. And again.

There are some interesting ideas here, though ones that have been done elsewhere, like multiple copies of a person, effective immortality through downloaded personality/memories, etc. I think the book was supposed to have an epic feel to it -- the potential end of the world(!) -- but it sure didn't feel that way. I guess if I were grading, I'd give it a B-. (I do, however, highly recommend Pandora's Star, which has a true sequel, plus another trilogy that builds on the first two. Massive space opera, clash of civilizations, lots of violence, sex, and a cast of thousands.)
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Sat Feb 11, 2012 1:37 am

Ugh . . . slogged through a pretty bad book that pretty much marks the end of a series for me. I remember when Clive Cussler's adventure novels (starring marine scientist Dirk Pitt) were such fun reading. Raise the Titanic! was his best known work, when they were semi-realistic. Somewhere around Cyclops and Deep Six, they took a turn toward the incredible, with secret bases on the moon and mind-control devices implanted in the President, but they were still readable.

Not now. The last three books have been co-written with his son, and it pains me to say this, because the son has a degree from Berkeley, but clearly Cussler is just mailing it in, and his son lacks his talent. The most recent book, Crescent Dawn, is boring, with limp characterization, no emotional impact at all, and not much suspense. I borrowed it from the library, and I'm still pissed.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Manendra » Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:24 pm

Raccoon wrote: Matt Ruff, The Mirage - looks like one of those weird parallel universe novels; in this one, Christian fundamentalists hijack four planes and crash them into buildings in the Middle East. Eight years later, Arab agents capture a Christian terrorist who tells them that the world is a mirage, and that in the real world, the West is the power, and the Middle East is a bunch of backwards Third World nations. I read Ruff's Sewer, Gas, and Electric many years ago and thought it was a clever thriller.
I read a review/interview with the author about this book and it immediately went into my goodreads "To read" list. Sounded really interesting.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Mon Feb 13, 2012 11:31 pm

Just finished another John Birmingham novel, Weapons of Choice, which is a pretty cool military techno/historical thriller. A quantum physics experiment in 2021 backfires and sends a mutlinational naval battle group back to 1942 (or maybe to a parallel universe, per the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics), right smack in the middle of the US Naval force that's preparing to defend Midway Island. . . . Like Without Warning, this is a well-thought out book that really delves into the deep implications of its "what if?" scenario. Highly recommended!
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by NardoLoopa » Tue Feb 14, 2012 6:31 am

Hmm, wasn't that a film? "Final Countdown"? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080736/

Pretty interesting premise, either way. There's another pulp book I've been meaning to get my hands on: "The Cross-time Engineer". Engineer goes back in time to Middle-ages with an M60 or something.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by top1214 » Tue Feb 14, 2012 10:30 am

NardoLoopa wrote: Pretty interesting premise, either way. There's another pulp book I've been meaning to get my hands on: "The Cross-time Engineer". Engineer goes back in time to Middle-ages with an M60 or something.

"And this is my BOOMSTICK!" ;)
So a remake of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Tue Feb 14, 2012 1:22 pm

NardoLoopa wrote:Hmm, wasn't that a film? "Final Countdown"? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080736/

Pretty interesting premise, either way. There's another pulp book I've been meaning to get my hands on: "The Cross-time Engineer". Engineer goes back in time to Middle-ages with an M60 or something.

"And this is my BOOMSTICK!" ;)
"Weapons of Choice" is similar in premise to The Final Countdown, enough that you'd have to think that Birmingham was inspired by the movie. But the book is much better than I remember the movie being, in part because there's much more sociological commentary (i.e., the racism and sexism of the 1940s confronted with a far superior future force where some of the commanders are -- gasp! -- women and minorities). Also, the near-future ships are pretty awesome in their destructive capability. There's also much more thought given to how the appearance of such a fleet would alter the course of history.

Along these lines, I think there is a movie in pre-production right now, based on a non-fiction speculative article, about a battalion (or maybe brigade?) of U.S. Marines who end up in ancient Rome . . . .
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by NardoLoopa » Tue Feb 14, 2012 9:53 pm

Did the ship go back in time for an extended period? If so, the interesting part to me would be how the commander dealt with finite resources. While his jets, missiles, bombs and ammo are incredible powerful, he must know he can only fly so many sorties before he runs out of fuel not available in 1940.

He'd have to dominate to seem invincible, but then hope nobody tests their force for a longer engagement.

Marines would also have that interesting problem. Though, with modern martial arts they'd still be a fearsome force in hand-to-hand. Obviously, tactics would be incredibly superior. Yeah, that could be interesting.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:34 am

NardoLoopa wrote:Did the ship go back in time for an extended period? If so, the interesting part to me would be how the commander dealt with finite resources. While his jets, missiles, bombs and ammo are incredible powerful, he must know he can only fly so many sorties before he runs out of fuel not available in 1940.

He'd have to dominate to seem invincible, but then hope nobody tests their force for a longer engagement.

Marines would also have that interesting problem. Though, with modern martial arts they'd still be a fearsome force in hand-to-hand. Obviously, tactics would be incredibly superior. Yeah, that could be interesting.
Yes, it appears that they are stuck there indefinitely, and limited resources/lack of industrial base is a crucial matter.

Also, some of the fleet gets sent elsewhere . . . i.e., it's not just the Allies who get access to the near-future ships.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by NardoLoopa » Wed Feb 15, 2012 10:00 pm

Raccoon wrote:Yes, it appears that they are stuck there indefinitely, and limited resources/lack of industrial base is a crucial matter.

Also, some of the fleet gets sent elsewhere . . . i.e., it's not just the Allies who get access to the near-future ships.
Okay, might check it out just based on that first part. Not so keen on the second part.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:50 pm

NardoLoopa wrote:Okay, might check it out just based on that first part. Not so keen on the second part.
I thought it was well handled. Realistic, and it allowed the author to explore how the Axis Powers would deal with the situation.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Thu Mar 01, 2012 1:54 am

YIKES! I just finished The Strain, by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan. Let me put it this way, when I woke up this morning, I was less than a quarter of the way through it. After a 7 mile run on the treadmill while reading, I was just under halfway through. I got in some more reading during my son's piano lesson, getting to 2/3 of the way. I finished by 9:30 pm . . . .

This is another vampire/virus novel set in the modern day, with modern characters who respond to the kinds of weird things that legendary vampirism causes with rational, science-based thought . . . . You can guess how well that works. I liked how the authors worked mostly at building up suspense, tension, and dread rather than horror/shock. I had a fairly persistent low level of dread from just about the start, because they work with the familiar tropes of vampirism, leaving abundant clues without getting gory (until later).

This is part 1 of a trilogy. I've already got part 2 on my Kindle Fire (both borrowed from the library), and I had a hardcover copy of part 3 for advanced review purposes, so I'm set for now.

By the way, I'm not normally a fan of horror novels, but I really enjoyed this one.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by BC_Goldman » Fri Mar 02, 2012 10:39 am

The Passage by Justin Cronin was a vampire/viral type book. First part of a trilogy (2012/2014) for the other two books.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Fri Mar 02, 2012 1:41 pm

BC_Goldman wrote:The Passage by Justin Cronin was a vampire/viral type book. First part of a trilogy (2012/2014) for the other two books.
It's on my "to be read" bookshelf. My dad gave me his copy (he really liked it). I may hold off on getting to it, as I kind of like being able to plow through an entire trilogy without having to wait.

On the subject of vampire novels, besides The Strain trilogy (working my way through) and The Passage, I've already read Stoker's Dracula (scariest book I've ever read, because I was 11 at the time), parts of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot (the David Soul TV movie really creeped me out), and Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series doesn't focus on vampire, as there are all sorts of supernatural creatures, but there are some major vampire characters (and three different kinds of vamps, no less!). F. Paul Wilson's Adversary Cycle/Repairman Jack novels have a vampiric-like monstrous entity, but not a true vampire. (But highly recommended!)

I have not read -- and do not realistically expect ever to read -- Anne Rice's Lestat series, or Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by slaphappy snark » Fri Mar 02, 2012 2:11 pm

Fledgling by Octavia Butler is an interesting take on vampires. I think I read somewhere that she decided to write it for fun, because vampires, but it's still very Butler (well plotted and well written and actually has some things to say, in addition to being a great read).

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Fri Mar 02, 2012 4:55 pm

slaphappy snark wrote:Fledgling by Octavia Butler is an interesting take on vampires. I think I read somewhere that she decided to write it for fun, because vampires, but it's still very Butler (well plotted and well written and actually has some things to say, in addition to being a great read).
Other books of hers have been recommended to me, but weren't to my taste.

One other vampire novel I've read was Christopher Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends, which is pretty funny (intentionally so). Apparently there are now sequels, You Suck and Bite Me, which I haven't read.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by slaphappy snark » Fri Mar 02, 2012 5:10 pm

Raccoon wrote:Other books of hers have been recommended to me, but weren't to my taste.
Clearly, your taste is bad. Except that Christopher Moore is awesome, so maybe not! I read You Suck without realizing it was a sequel (after reading Lamb, which I thought was fantastic, but it has nothing to do with vampires...)

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Fri Mar 02, 2012 5:42 pm

slaphappy snark wrote:Clearly, your taste is bad. Except that Christopher Moore is awesome, so maybe not! I read You Suck without realizing it was a sequel (after reading Lamb, which I thought was fantastic, but it has nothing to do with vampires...)
I acknowledge her skill as a writer, just as I acknowledge Margaret Atwood's -- yet, about 30 pages of The Handmaiden's Tale was enough to let me know that it wasn't for me.

Then again, as you've already noted, most of what I read tends to be about terrorism, fiction as well as non-fiction.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by top1214 » Sat Mar 03, 2012 10:24 am

Raccoon wrote:
slaphappy snark wrote:Clearly, your taste is bad. Except that Christopher Moore is awesome, so maybe not! I read You Suck without realizing it was a sequel (after reading Lamb, which I thought was fantastic, but it has nothing to do with vampires...)
I acknowledge her skill as a writer, just as I acknowledge Margaret Atwood's -- yet, about 30 pages of The Handmaiden's Tale was enough to let me know that it wasn't for me.

Then again, as you've already noted, most of what I read tends to be about terrorism, fiction as well as non-fiction.
Sometimes you have to go deeper than 30 pages. 30 pages of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss did not impress me. I very nearly gave up on it. I would've been sorry. (There are very few books I did not finish once starting them.)

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Tue Mar 06, 2012 3:45 pm

top1214 wrote: Sometimes you have to go deeper than 30 pages. 30 pages of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss did not impress me. I very nearly gave up on it. I would've been sorry. (There are very few books I did not finish once starting them.)
I don't doubt that, and I used to be more patient about how many pages I would give a book. I even delved 70 pages in Tom Clancy's Patriot Games before concluding that it was unreadable. . . . But my to-be-read pile is stacked so high right now that I guess I'm willing to risk missing out on the one I should've stuck with, if it means I avoid sinking more time into the ones not worth it, and my sense is the risk/reward ratio there makes cutting my losses a rational strategy.

On another note, I've now finished the entire Strain trilogy (The Strain, The Fall, and The Night Eternal) by Del Toro & Hogan. Wow! You can get a sense of how compulsively readable they are from how quickly I burned through them. Really good stuff, and with an appropriate ending. I noticed that reviewers on Amazon were kind of harsh toward the last book (just as some were with the last one in the Hunger Games trilogy) . . . I can see the criticism about the deus ex machina nature of some key events, but that didn't bother me as I was reading. Anyway, if you have at all a taste for techno-thriller/horror/vampire/virus novels, you'll want to give these a try.

In a totally unrelated direction, I'm slightly halfway through Absolutely Small: How Quantum Theory Explains Our Everyday World by Michael Fayer. Once upon a time, before I turned away from math/science/engineering to the dark side (aka humanities), I took quantum physics, but I now realize how muddled my understanding of it was. Fayer's book isn't a textbook and it's light on the math (but not devoid of it), and it's not written for physics majors. However, my sense is that it's way too sophisticated for the innumerate to process. In short, I seem to be more or less the ideal audience for it -- not afraid of math/science, but (at this point) not a hardcore math/science/engineering type.

Strangely, I find that this is an ideal book to read (on my Kindle Fire) while I'm running on the treadmill. . . .
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by NardoLoopa » Wed Mar 07, 2012 9:52 pm

Finished "Weapons of Choice" tonight. Realized I haven't read a Mass-paperback book since a high school fascination with SF. I kinda realize why -- I'm a lit snob. Lots of text, not enough meat. Or at least, the interesting part of the plot was spread out over 400 pages and ends in a cliff-hanger. I guess that's how these guys make money.

I found Yamamoto's plot line more interesting than anyone else's. And the German engineer was refreshing.

I felt he dipped a little into the conundrums of the setup, but never developed any philosophical conclusions about them. The idea that the 2020 crowd was just, if not more, alien to '42 crowd than the Japs they were fighting was interesting. Unfortunately, it gets surface treatment. I had to move quickly over the many many references to how backward civil rights and gender equality were back then.

While I guess it doesn't sound like a thank-you is coming, it is. Thank you. I'm glad I read it.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Thu Mar 08, 2012 1:34 am

NardoLoopa wrote:While I guess it doesn't sound like a thank-you is coming, it is. Thank you. I'm glad I read it.
Heh, thanks. Well, Designated Targets is more of the same, although the issue of running out of advanced munitions becomes even more acute as plot points. Also, there's more on the Axis side of things. I can just send you an overall summary of what happens when I finish the last book, which I just started today, if you don't want to read any more.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by NardoLoopa » Thu Mar 08, 2012 6:10 am

Raccoon wrote: I can just send you an overall summary of what happens when I finish the last book, which I just started today, if you don't want to read any more.
If it's not too much trouble, I'd really enjoy reading it. I'm a sucker for What-Ifs. It's interesting to see it play out.

I got a bit frustrated that the Allied side didn't immediately understand their need to ration. Sure, they mentioned the problem of material sciences taking 30 years to catch up, but you'd think a frank discussion of how to effectively use every darn bullet in their arsenal would be in order.

Also, it would be interesting if the flexipad contained enough physics for Heisenberg to avoid his fission problems -- thus putting the Nazis ahead in the arms race.

I did like how the first book ended, though. Not the explosive climax (that seemed very predicable), but the Nazis learning their great mistake from the flexipad.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Thu Mar 29, 2012 4:37 pm

Just a heads-up . . . I know there are a number of Neal Stephenson fans among you. "Anathem," which is the space opera crossed with philosophy reconstruction novel from a few years back, is available in the Kindle ebook format for $1.99. What a deal!
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Eevilcat » Wed Apr 04, 2012 2:11 pm

I've enjoyed 'Ready Player One' and the 'Hunger Games' trilogy on the back of your reviews so thank you. I read Del Toro 'Strain' trilogy earlier this year and was also impressed, it was refreshing to have a different take on vampires but did think the third book was the weakest. I just got Monster Island by David Wellington from the library which has had some mixed reviews but looks like being a fun zombie romp.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Tue May 29, 2012 11:28 pm

It's been a while since I updated this, but I've been reading quite a bit (except for when I was grading final exams). Here are some quick and dirty reviews:

J. Gregory Smith, A Noble Cause -- Dude's girlfriend gets kidnapped while they're on vacation, which is the entryway into a mind control/brainwashing conspiracy novel. I liked the concept when Richard Condon wrote The Manchurian Candidate, and disliked it immensely when Dean Koontz wrote False Memory. This one sadly is more like Koontz's book than Condon's.

Russell Blake, The Voinich Cypher -- A lamer version of The Da Vinci Code, except a different puzzle to chase, and instead of a French art expert romantic interest, it's an American woman who dresses like Trinity from "The Matrix."

Ben Goldacre, Bad Science -- I'm a sucker for these science for lay audience books that debunk all kinds of scientific nonsense, like homeopathy, vaccine-autism links, etc. I enjoyed this one.

Brian Freemantle, Ice Age -- This is a relatively old novel that I picked up for cheap one day on my Kindle. It's another trope that I love: scientists mucking around in places they shouldn't, unleashing something NASTY. In this case, it's an aging disease. Yes, this is basically a novel using the same idea from the original Star Trek series episode "The Deadly Years" . . . . Not as good, either. Too much time spent on political machinations, which is okay, but not enough on the scope of the catastrophe. Oddly, not very thrilling.

James Risen, State of War -- A pointed account of the Bush Administration's miscalculations that led to the Iraq War.

George RR Martin, Game of Thrones -- I finally got around to reading this. I almost gave up after 50(? -- guessing, since it was on my Kindle) pages, but stuck with it. Sort of glad I did. It's a little like "24" in the medieval era, in terms of the multiple storylines converging together. Now waiting for Clash of Kings to come through the library.

Richard Preston, Demon in the Freezer -- A really scary book from the guy who wrote the Ebola-scare/gross-out-fest The Hot Zone. This one is about smallpox and anthrax. You won't sleep well after reading about the terrifying stuff that's out there.

Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational -- A fun book about behavior economics, like why $5 aspirin works better than $0.50 aspirin. Ariely writes in a lively way about all kinds of neat experiments that he and his co-authors have run over the years.

Michael Connelly, The Drop -- The latest in Connelly's "Harry Bosch" series, about the aforementioned LAPD detective. Another solid mystery. Not a lot of action, but still a page-turner.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by top1214 » Wed May 30, 2012 6:05 pm

Game of Thrones was great. I guess I started reading it c. 2004. I picked up a Feast for Crows shortly after it came out in paperback, so c. 2006. That left me 5 years to forget what I had read before the next one came out.

Bastard.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Verdigris97 » Wed May 30, 2012 8:52 pm

I finally (!) finished REAMDE and I really enjoyed it. I thought the ending was a little scattered, but it was still an excellent conclusion to a gripping story.

I have now started Game of Thrones (while waiting for Rothfuss #3) and it is really good so far (halfway through?). The
focus on one character per chapter
device had me hooked from the first chapter.

(How does the TV show compare? Is it any good? I can't see how half of this stuff could translate to the screen without some amount of narration. And does it cover more than just the first book so far?)

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Ceirdwyn » Thu May 31, 2012 1:30 am

TV show is one season per book so far.

I watched the TV series before reading Game of Thrones and was shocked how close to the book it was - even some of the dialogues were taken directly from the book. No narration, just the scenes as they are in the book for at least the first half of the book.

Reading Clash of Kings now and am mostly enjoying it. Have not seen anything of the series season 2 yet but have been told that series and book start to differ from each other more now.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by transplanted_entwife » Thu May 31, 2012 7:20 am

I'm thinking that I'll buy Game of Thrones for my Nook and read it whilst on vacation- thanks for the recommendations!
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Thu May 31, 2012 12:24 pm

F. Paul Wilson's revised Nightworld came out last week. This is the end of his Adversary Cycle and of the Repairman Jack novels. I posted a blurb earlier about the last RJ novel a few months ago (scroll up) if you want to know more about the series, but in brief, it's a non-religious supernatural horror/thriller about the impending end of the world. It starts like this: "On May 17, the sun rose late." The malignant entity Rasalom has become powerful enough to shorten the amount of daylight every day. And bad things come out at night. Very bad things. The only hope for humanity is a collection of people who, over the years, have knowingly or unknowingly, battled Rasalom.

This is a brutal novel, and as might be expected, has a fairly high body count. It's also insanely compelling, as it builds on the momentum over the past 15 RJ novels, as well as other Adversary Cycle novels. (To be sure, you don't need to have read all of those. I've read two of the previous five Cycle novels, The Keep and The Tomb, which is also RJ #1. The events of the other three -- The Touch, Reborn, and Reprisal -- are sort of covered in passing in Nightworld.)

I read the first 30 pages before going to bed on Tuesday.

I read the rest of the book last night.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Eigenbasis » Thu May 31, 2012 7:18 pm

While both the books and the TV show have their merits, when the TV show deviates from the book, I often prefer the show's version. Many of those scenes are dialogue between two characters who are not POV characters.

By the way, the third book will be split in to two seasons.

Might be a good idea to split off Game of Thrones talk to another thread if it ends up dominating the thread.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Ceirdwyn » Fri Jun 01, 2012 1:16 am

Eigenbasis wrote:By the way, the third book will be split in to two seasons.
I have two books in my shelf that are "the third book" so I guess it is fitting to split the series too.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Fri Jun 01, 2012 1:25 am

Man, all this talk about book vs TV versions of Game of Thrones makes me wish that someone would produce a TV mini-series based on Cryptonomicon! (If we were to take a poll of AFH(k)ers' favorite novel, I wonder if that would win? Maybe we should do a 64 bracket contest and see!)
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by blisterguy » Sat Jun 02, 2012 12:13 am

I would definitely vote for Cryptonomicon. Stephenson has even admitted that Game of Thrones, and so on, make him more open too the idea of an adaptation.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Wed Jun 06, 2012 4:40 pm

I'm sort of simultaneously reading two "Buck Rogers" type sci-fi novels (i.e., protagonist who goes unexpectedly into suspended animation and wakes up far in the future) right now. Why simultaneously? Because one I bought in hardcover, and the other I'm borrowing via Amazon Prime on my Kindle Fire.

The hardcover one is Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught, which is actually the first book in a continuation series of the original The Lost Fleet. In this series, humanity in the future has divided into two enemy factions, the Alliance and the Syndicate. The protagonist, "Black Jack" Geary, was thought to have died 100 years ago in a historical battle where he stayed on-board a doomed ship and covered for the escape of his shipmates. However, he managed to get into an escape pod, where he stayed in suspended animation until being found finally. The Alliance is losing the war against the Syndicate, and the Alliance's main fleet has just been ambushed. Geary ends up having to take command of what's left of the fleet (as he has the most seniority of the surviving command officers by date of service -- his 100+ years in suspension still counting). The first series is about his strategy and plan for getting the fleet back to Alliance space, sort of like a military sci-fi version of the movie "The Warriors" (or if you prefer the Greek source, Xenophon).

What I like about Campbell's universe is that it makes some attempt at grappling with the concept of space battle at relativistic speeds. (Naturally, artificial gravity and "jump gates" are used without explanation.) At speeds of up to 0.2 C (speed of light), what you see on the screen is not reflective of where ships actually are by the time your weaponry reaches them, so there's quite a significant fog of war going on. In addition, he takes into account the fact that if you "jump" into a star system, you have an advantage, because ships already stationed in that system can be seen immediately (because light reflecting off those ships is constantly traveling), but the newcomers won't be immediately detected until the light reflecting off them reaches the stationed ships.

The ebook is Chris Roberson's Further: Beyond the Threshold. I guess "Beyond" is quite the word for this pair. In this book, the protagonist is the only(?) surviving member of a United Nations deep space exploration team from the 23rd century who ends up in suspended animation and is found in the 121st century. I'll give Roberson credit for trying to imagine what humanity will look like 12000 years from now. It's a pretty outrageous place, with uplifted mammals, sentient AI, terraforming, etc. Unfortunately, for the first half at least (which is where I've gotten), it's basically a travelogue of the 121st century. It's kind of boring, and too much of it seems borrowed from here and there (digitized consciousness and wormhole travel gates between planets can be found in Peter Hamilton's Commonwealth books).

So, if you like this kind of Buck Rogers story, I would recommend starting at the beginning of Campbell's Lost Fleet series and skipping Roberson's.
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by BC_Goldman » Wed Jun 06, 2012 7:27 pm

Raccoon wrote: What I like about Campbell's universe is that it makes some attempt at grappling with the concept of space battle at relativistic speeds. (Naturally, artificial gravity and "jump gates" are used without explanation.) At speeds of up to 0.2 C (speed of light), what you see on the screen is not reflective of where ships actually are by the time your weaponry reaches them, so there's quite a significant fog of war going on. In addition, he takes into account the fact that if you "jump" into a star system, you have an advantage, because ships already stationed in that system can be seen immediately (because light reflecting off those ships is constantly traveling), but the newcomers won't be immediately detected until the light reflecting off them reaches the stationed ships.
That sounds like a really cool concept.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Roippi » Wed Jun 06, 2012 9:42 pm

Reading through the types of books being mentioned here, Hyperion (Dan Simmons) is decidedly worth a mention. It is basically a retelling of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in a science fiction environment. Even though it was written in 1989, I can't imagine a sci-fi novel that is more deserving of being called a piece of literature.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by Raccoon » Wed Jun 06, 2012 11:11 pm

Roippi wrote:Reading through the types of books being mentioned here, Hyperion (Dan Simmons) is decidedly worth a mention. It is basically a retelling of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in a science fiction environment. Even though it was written in 1989, I can't imagine a sci-fi novel that is more deserving of being called a piece of literature.
I read Simmons' Ilium and thought it was an impressive effort, but for some reason, it didn't appeal to me as much as it should have, given my love for the original source material.

As far as space opera goes, I'd recommend two series -- Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth books (start with Pandora's Star), and Neal Asher's Ian Cormac series (start with Gridlinked).
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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by top1214 » Thu Jun 07, 2012 10:53 am

Roippi wrote:Reading through the types of books being mentioned here, Hyperion (Dan Simmons) is decidedly worth a mention. It is basically a retelling of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in a science fiction environment. Even though it was written in 1989, I can't imagine a sci-fi novel that is more deserving of being called a piece of literature.
Dan Simmons is the only author that has actually creeped me out. That chapter in Hyperion about the priest and parts of Hollow Man freaked me out pretty bad.

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Re: Raccoon's thread of (mostly fiction) book reviews

Post by NardoLoopa » Thu Jun 07, 2012 11:06 am

top1214 wrote:
Roippi wrote:Reading through the types of books being mentioned here, Hyperion (Dan Simmons) is decidedly worth a mention. It is basically a retelling of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in a science fiction environment. Even though it was written in 1989, I can't imagine a sci-fi novel that is more deserving of being called a piece of literature.
Dan Simmons is the only author that has actually creeped me out. That chapter in Hyperion about the priest and parts of Hollow Man freaked me out pretty bad.
Heh, Dan dated my recently-ex-girlfriend/still-friend at one point (I was an aspiring short-story writer, he was entertaining a mulit-million dollar deal to ghost-write the rest of the Jason Borne series.); oddly, he was very insecure about it.

Kind of a screwed up guy, as I remember.
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