Book Thread

Discussion in 'Media Central' started by RickDeckard, Dec 23, 2012.

  1. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    If I were a billionaire looking to dissipate my life in dissipative pursuits, I'd start a website devoted to Christie book covers. They cover such a range of printing technology and styles that they're like pulling a core out of Antarctic ice.
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  2. Paladin

    Paladin Overjoyed Man of Liberty

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    I love the facsimile cover editions Harper Collins put out; I'd rather I had the whole collection that way. Alas, they didn't do all the books and I don't think they're in print any longer.
  3. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton

    This is recently released book about economics aimed at a general audience. Specifically it aims to explain and promote Modern Monetary Theory, a radical new way of thinking about economics which has been growing in popularity recently.
    MMT makes the point that countries (particularly the US but also the likes of Japan, UK, Australia) who issue their own currency (and do not borrow in someone else's) are unable to ever run out of funds and that therefore the size of the fiscal deficit run that they run is irrelevant. The fixation by politicians on cutting it for its own sake is either deliberately mischievous or based on the myth that national economics operates like a household budget.
    Kelton explains this - and in turn also explains the various things that follow from it. These are that taxation is not linked to spending at all and could be considered unnecessary, that issuing debt is entirely optional and done for other reasons, that full employment can and should be guaranteed by the state and that deficit spending does not crowd out private investment - among others.
    Most crucially she argues that the brake on government spending ought only to be inflation. High levels of that should be avoided and there can be various mechanisms in place to reign in deficits when it becomes a risk.
    Although I am not expert enough to examine the technical details, the general thrust of the argument appears sound to me and it is a necessary paradigm shift in a world where levels of government spending are exploding in the face of a pandemic. One suspects that this or something like it will form the basis for a new orthodoxy in years to come.
    If I have criticisms of the book, they are firstly that it is a little repetitive in terms of its central message - and secondly that the latter half of the book loses some focus as it strays into various other policy issues and how they might be resolved within the MMT framework.
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  4. Paladin

    Paladin Overjoyed Man of Liberty

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    Endless Night by Agatha Christie

    This standalone Christie--no Poirot, no Marple--wasn't a page turner like And Then There Were None, but I'd seen several videos and articles that named it among Christie's best, and, apparently, it was Christie's own favorite among her works. But it kept me interested enough until SOMETHING REALLY SIGNIFICANT happened two-thirds of the way through the book, and I thought "Okay, here's where it descends into your standard detective story."

    Nope. I was wrong, gloriously wrong. The revelation in this one totally rocks.

    As with all Christie stories, I can't say too much without risking spoilers, but here's the setup for the plot...

    Mike Rogers (who narrates the story) is a likeable if somewhat aimless young man who works as a chaffeur. One day, he is drawn to a plot of land (called Gipsy's Acre) for sale in a small English town and dreams of living on it in a custom home designed by his friend, the architect Santonix, whom he has met in the course of driving rich folks around.

    At the auction for the land, it is revealed that a private party has already bought the land. Ah well, Mike knew he couldn't afford it, anyway. But afterwards, he meets a nice if somewhat evasive girl named Ellie. They hit it off, and Ellie reveals she's actually a VERY rich American heiress and it was she who bought the land.

    They marry and, sure enough, Santonix builds them a house on the land. But there are some complications: Ellie has an employee/companion, Greta, a beautiful Nordic type who exerts a little too much influence on her, there's a gypsy woman who sees dark things in the couple's future, and Ellie's stepmother, attorney, financial advisors, and other hangers-on are none too pleased about her sudden marriage and may be manuvering to disrupt it.

    Still, the young couple is enjoying life in their new home when...things go sideways. And, hoo boy, the darkness hinted at in the title does descend.

    This is my second favorite of Christie's standalones that I've read, falling behind the legendary And Then There Were None and ahead of the shocking Crooked House.

    This novel came late in Christie's career (1967), usually not regarded as her peak period, but this really is very solid and, compared to the 20s/30s tales of her best, seems more modern, almost like a story that one could set in today's world. Christie does a darned credible job narrating the story as a young man in the 1960s.

    Verdict: a bit of a slow burn that keeps the reader going with likeable characters and ominous portents that builds to a dark and very satisfying conclusion. Recommended.

    My rankings thus far:
    1. The A.B.C. Murders
    2. And Then There Were None
    3. Evil Under the Sun
    4. Murder on the Orient Express
    5. Endless Night
    6. The Mysterious Affair at Styles
    7. Crooked House
    8. The Murder at the Vicarage
    9. Cards on the Table
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  5. Paladin

    Paladin Overjoyed Man of Liberty

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    I found out only yesterday that there's a film version of Endless Night (1971, with Hayley Mills and Britt Eckland) though apparently it wasn't very well received and Christie herself called it "lackluster." But, I found the Blu-Ray on good ol' Amazon and it's on its way. Watched the trailer on YouTube and it seems like a pretty straight adaptation. It will be interesting to see how it compares to the book.
  6. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    How does she address the concern of unfriendly nations holding one's debt, e.g. China and the US?
  7. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    I will have to give Endless Night a reread sometime then, I only read it once or twice as a teen and I guess it was not what I was looking for in a Christie novel.
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  8. Paladin

    Paladin Overjoyed Man of Liberty

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    As I was reading it, I was constantly aware how different it was. There isn't any murder (at least not early on) and there isn't any detective work, just the story of a young couple getting together and dealing with obstacles to their happiness. One could rewrite the last third and make it a fairly conventional romance story.

    Truthfully, I had a little impatience in the middle part simply because I was waiting for someone to get murdered! But the characters and story were still enough to hold my interest, and the payoff at the end was well worth it.

    This seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it Christie. A reviewer on YouTube who's read virtually Christie's entire body of work remarked that it's a top 5 or top 10 for many Christie fans, but she ranked it pretty low (#56 out of 66!) because it's too angsty and melodramatic.

    Up next for me: Roger Ackroyd gonna die!
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  9. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    She points out that it doesn't give the "unfriendly nation" any power at all. What can China actually do?
    They can continue to collect a small amount of interest over time. They could dump the bonds on the secondary market, but someone else will just buy them and collect the interest - if necessary the Fed.
    Issuing debt instruments at all is entirely optional and the interest rates paid out are essentially set by the central bank.
    And China only buys the debt because the trade deficit leaves them holding lots of dollars that they need to do something with. US debt is simply a better asset for them to hold.
  10. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

    This is a novel about the "Lost Generation" which came of age during World War I and who suffered a great degree of disorientation afterwards. It was Hemingway's breakthrough and is applauded by some as his finest work.
    The story is partially autobiographical, and centres around Jake - an American writer living in Paris in the 1920s - and several of his friends. Things start of in the bars and cafes of Paris before moving to the Fiesta in Spain, a festival of bullfighting. The characters drink heavily and fawn over Brett, who is the only female among their number and who is extremely promiscuous.
    As is often the case with Hemingway, there is a lot going on under the surface. The characters and the world they inhabit often seem torn between the traditional and the new more liberal culture. Tradition is exemplified by Spain and its bullfighting, which Hemingway idealises. (The fact that this is by now even more of an anachronism provides a further demonstration of the theme, summed up in the title and the poem from which it is drawn.) The modern is seen in Paris and the aforementioned character of Brett.
    So there's certainly a lot to recommend here from a literary perspective. Unfortunately there is some ugliness, including a fair amount of anti-Semitism. Overall I think that For Whom the Bell Tolls was better.
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  11. Paladin

    Paladin Overjoyed Man of Liberty

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    Not to detail the book thread into a film thread, but just to follow up on this...

    Got the film. The Blu-Ray is surprisingly good for a 50-year-old fairly low budget film on a disk from a lower end brand (Kino Lorber).

    The film is a very straight adaptation with a few changes (Mrs. Lee the gypsy woman becomes Mrs. Townsend the local eccentric) and simplifications (the town doctor and Philpot characters get merged, Claudia Hardcastle is omitted).

    MV5BMGNiZTA0YzAtMGVlNi00ZmRiLWIwMmUtZTdmMDIxM2MxMGYwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzU4ODM5Nw@@._V1_.jpg

    Screenshot_10032.png

    Hayley Mills is Ellie, Hywel Bennett is Mike, and Britt Ekland (foin! we even get a brief topless shot!) is Greta. Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny from all the early Bond films) is stepmother Cora.

    On the whole, a decent film. Like the book, it's fairly slow-paced and melodramatic for the first two-thirds, but it keeps the killer ending. I think the filmmakers could've done a better job sticking the landing on the revelation, but it's solid enough.

    Straightforward adaptation of a classic Christie novel that mostly gets it done.

    6.5/10.
  12. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    I and II Esdras - KJV

    Now seems as good a time as any for me to finally see what this Apocrypha business is about. My attitude has been somewhere between spectator and serious student as I read the first doubleheader.

    I Esdras is approximately a retelling of the Protestant book of Ezra, with weirder name spellings, comely Levites ( :unsure: ), and a confusing structure that Wikipedia says is called a chiasm. There's a little story about servants arguing about what the strongest thing in the world is, that even filtered through KJV language feels a little pat. I was not prepared for a prophet named Jeremy, let alone comely Levites. I didn't get much out of this one.

    II Esdras is more interesting. There's some good bits to mull over and some sketchy theology. Ezra is in despair over God's judgment on Israel (what, already?) and other matters and seeks God's guidance. It starts like a blend between Lamentations and Job and then the apocalyptic visions start, with lions and feathers and dragons. The Messiah is explicitly named Jesus a little too readily for my comfort. I'm unpersuaded to regard this book as "real", but it was worth a read.
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  13. Paladin

    Paladin Overjoyed Man of Liberty

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    I got a hardcover edition of Poirot Investigates. Seems like a decent quality book, but the jacket art, well,...

    PSX_20200922_131411.jpg

    ...seems to have a depiction of Sherlock f**king Holmes and not Poirot. :mad:
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  14. Useful Idiot

    Useful Idiot Fresh Meat

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    I read 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich' for a class the other day. Those Russians are a cherry bunch.
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  15. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    That's fantastic bootleg vibes, a parody could hardly have done better, 10/10.
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  16. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    Tobit - KJV

    Tobit (grade-A name) is a Naphtali exile (possibly the second-best tribe name after Zebulun) living in Nineveh (where Jonah was sent). His likes include almsgiving, giving slain Jews a proper burial, almsgiving, and telling his son how awesome almsgiving is. Dislikes include being persecuted for giving Jews a proper burial, sparrows that literally blind him with their droppings, and apologizing to his wife for calling her a thief.

    Tobit has left some silver elsewhere, so he sends his son Tobias with a kinsman to get it. But the family member is the angel Raphael in disguise! Tobias is attacked by a big fish, but Raphael tells him to catch it. They then reach another town where lives Sara. Sara has a demon who's been killing off the local eligible bachelors, one by one, whenever they try to marry her. But Raphael tells Tobias to use part of the fish to make himself smelly to drive the demon away. This works, and Tobias returns home triumphant with bride, dowry, and silver, plus a giant fish organ he uses to restore Tobit's sight.

    I liked the stress on charity. I liked Raphael stressing that he had been acting on orders from God instead of just intervening on his own initiative, as pop culture often depicts angels (understandably). I didn't like Raphael telling Tobias that healing power was inherent in that kind of fish, rather than the fish being a conduit of God's power.
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  17. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    Judith - KJV

    Nebuchadnezzar* is going to fight somebody, so he asks a whole swath of countries to come help him. They ignore him, but he goes and stomps the other guy anyway. Then he vows REVENGE by wiping out everyone who ignored his summons. He puts together a humongous army (not sure why he thought he needed help) and sends them off under Holofernes's command. Holofernes warms up by wiping out Phud and Lud, which with names like that it's not like anyone was going to miss them. Then he comes to a town in Judah and prepares to attack. Which the Hebrews want him to do, because they have sweet defensive positions. But then nearby descendants of Esau point out to Holofernes that he doesn't have to attack, he can just guard the wells and thirst will drive Judah to surrender. This is why nobody likes kibitzers.

    Anyway things are getting dire, and the one important bit of theology comes into play, when the city elders agree that, unless God delivers them within X days, they will surrender. Judith, a wealthy widow, upbraids them for trying to put constraints on God's plans and says she'll take care of this. So she takes a maid and goes over to the other side. She tells Holofernes that the city is protected by the Lord God as long as its inhabitants obey God, but they're getting so desperate that they are about to start eating animals they shouldn't. When they do, she'll let Holofernes know it's time to attack.

    Did I mention Judith is a total fox? Because she's a fox. Eventually Holofernes holds a feast where he gets super-drunk, then holds Judith back afterwards because he has the hots for her. But he falls asleep before anything can happen, and Judith whacks off his head, then takes it back to the city. The Hebrews immediately flip out like this answers all their problems and there aren't still a bajillion soldiers still out there. But they cool down and lay plans, and next day they wait for the enemy to freak out over Holofernes, then attack and drive them off in disarray.

    Wikipedia seems confident that this is either an entirely fabricated "historical novel" or a history with symbolic names for people and places, which is fine with me. There was not much insight here beyond "trust in God" and "don't sleep with the heathen who wants to slaughter your friends".
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  18. Paladin

    Paladin Overjoyed Man of Liberty

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    The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

    (no spoilers)

    My Christie binge continues with this classic, highly regarded as innovative by most critics, disdained as a cheat by a few. I come down firmly on the side of the former.

    Full disclosure: I knew the "secret" before I read the book. Way back when I was researching And Then There Were None, I stumbled on the big spoiler just sitting in a Wikipedia paragraph. But I put this knowledge to good use: I read looking for any cheats in Christie's narrative. I'm happy to say it holds together, and she even drops several hints along the way. Without going into spoiler territory, I'll say this: Christie breaks a convention in detective fiction and, by doing so, achieves a killer twist ending. She used a similar technique in another book I've reviewed.

    To summarize the story: a rich man--the titular Ackroyd--is found murdered in his study and, as usual, suspects abound. Was it Ackroyd's stepson, who's mysteriously disappeared? The sister who wanted to get out from under his thumb? The maid who had a mysterious argument with Ackroyd before leaving his employ? The butler with a checkered past? The famed hunter who secretly desires Ackroyd's niece? We get all the usual misdirection and confounding facts we've come to expect. The town doctor takes the place of gone-to-Argentina Hastings as the narrator of the story, and both he and his gossip-mongering sister are well-drawn characters.

    The plot moves snappily along, never losing my interest. The last 50 or so pages steadily escalate things with big revelations and the last 20 are a fantastic payoff.

    I think this one earns its place as a classic of the genre and a top-tier Christie. It's my 2nd favorite Poirot so far, and would probably be my "If You Could Read Only One" pick since it has all the elements (well, except for lacking Hastings, but Dr. Sheppard is a suitably congenial replacement).

    My rankings thus far:
    1. The A.B.C. Murders
    2. And Then There Were None
    3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
    4. Evil Under the Sun
    5. Murder on the Orient Express
    6. Endless Night
    7. The Mysterious Affair at Styles
    8. Crooked House
    9. The Murder at the Vicarage
    10. Cards on the Table

    Up next: another Marple---The Moving Finger.
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  19. Demiurge

    Demiurge Goodbye and Hello, as always.

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    I've got a couple going right now:

    A Night at the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny, halloweeny. Zelazny may be my favorite author of all time
    A Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer. It's an interesting look at the culture and reality of medieval Britain
    The Education of an Idealist, a Memoir, by Samantha Power. An inside look at the Obama administration.
    The Real and Unreal, by Ursula K Leguin - an anthology of novellas and short stories
    The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828, by Lynn Hudson Parsons

    Damn, I really should sit down and finish a couple of these. Guess I'm too distracted by the next insanity in politics.
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  20. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    Anyone who thinks it's a cheat is just a sore loser.
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  21. Paladin

    Paladin Overjoyed Man of Liberty

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    :lol:

    I agree.

    Since I read it knowing what the twist was, I was on the lookout for clues or any possible cheats. I can say that if you read the story knowing the twist, it all hangs together. Nowhere does Christie misrepresent anything, although there is a lot of, er, strategic omission, which is true of any good mystery.

    The one line that comes closest to cheating (but is not) is this one:

    It is just oddly phrased enough that it could set off a reader's alarm bells, but if you're not really on your toes, it goes right by. I readily admit I would not have caught it. But it does play fairly; the line is a truthful summary of what happened.

    The other big bit that would've immediately got me suspicious was:
  22. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    The Rain Before It Falls - Jonathan Coe

    Gill is leading a perfectly normal life in Shropshire as tepidly loved wife and mother of two when she receives a phone call: her aunt Rosamond has passed away. Gill finds she has been made executor of her aunt's estate, with the most interesting part being a collection of audio recordings that Rosamond wanted delivered to one Imogen, a blind girl whom Gill met only once, at her aunt's birthday party.

    Imogen proves elusive to locate, and of course Gill and her daughters cave to temptation and listen to the recordings themselves: Rosamond proposing to tell Imogen about Imogen's past, through the device of describing twenty photographs for her.

    The most notable strength of this book is the description. Coe hits you from page one with sharp, economical word choices that paint emotional states as well as visual images. As the book continues, it's clear that the story the author is telling is not about Imogen's family history, but about Rosamond's life, with its ups and downs and relationships that often leave Rosamond on the outside looking in somehow. This is a fine choice, but because of the author's mindset, he misses the obvious opportunity to have Rosamond tell Imogen about what Imogen's mother was like as a child: it's simply not important to the story of Rosamond.

    I also feel that sometimes he went looking a little too hard for the perfect word in Rosamond's narration and muddied her voice somewhat, with needlessly polysyllabic words that an old woman ready for the end would not waste time using. It was also a bit of a shift to see Gill's story, such as it was, being strongly and carefully described at first, only to be reduced to serving the core story by the end. For all that, a good read.
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  23. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    Magu-Chan: God of Destruction (Vol. 1-6, 11-16) - Kei Kamiki

    Someone recommended a different manga on this site, the quality of which was sorely outweighed by the bad Japan Weird factor* and which will be spoken of no more here. But looking over the recent releases, I saw a girl proudly displaying a Futurama brain slug on her cranium and obviously had to investigate.

    Magu Manueku is an eldritch god who has it made. He has a cult of minions who pay him worship in exchange for him destroying things with his mighty eyebeam of destruction. This is how the mortal world works. But some interfering do-gooders seal him away in a crystal. A few hundred years later, the crystal washes up on a beach, where it's found by a young girl digging for clams. The girl, Ruru, naturally breaks him loose. Alas, the crystal has sapped his strength, and he's barely the size of a fist now. His eyebeam is now exhausting to use, too. But this Ruru person readily agrees to be his first minion as he seeks to recover his power and glory, although for some inconceivable reason she keeps using words like friends and disrespecting him at the most unpredictable times.

    Thus begins the modern quest of an eldritch god to get mortal humans to take him seriously and worship him on his own terms.

    [​IMG]
    Once you let the eldritch beast get control of a grimoire, it's all over.

    The whole thing is full of fantastic panels like that, where you just have to pause and take in what the author is presenting to you straight-facedly. Magu is played completely straight, Ruru manages to find the sweet spot of taking him seriously without being afraid of him or his goals, and the supporting cast is brought in one by one to give their takes on finding an elder god (or two, or three . . . ) in their midst. It's light and funny, and so far the author keeps the premise fresh and zany. And the bad Japan Weird-o-meter hasn't even flickered yet. There aren't even any sweatdrops. Ugh, I hate those sweatdrops.

    The website has the first six and latest six issues available, so #11 is set to disappear within a few days. Just remember to read right-to-left.


    * much like good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, there is good and bad Japan Weird factor
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  24. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    Dune by Frank Herbert

    I've had the book lying around for a while and decided to read it when I seen that there was a new movie version coming out soon.
    Considered one of the landmark works of science fiction, it focuses on Paul, heir to the noble house of Atreides. The family (one of many in a kind of interstellar feudal system) has just been granted rulership over the planet Arrakis (also known as Dune) by the Emperor. Arrakis is the source of mind-enhancing "spice", the most coveted substance in the universe but it is also a very hostile place and there are others who seek to control it.
    It is magnificent and very, very cool. The world building itself is uncommonly good. Add to that a propulsive plot, which is complex but never convoluted and a wide cast of characters that is unfailingly interesting and it ranks alongside the best science fiction novels that I've read.
    One can certainly see the influence on everything from Star Wars to Game of Thrones.
    The movie has been delayed by COVID, so I will surely be well into the sequels before that comes out.
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  25. Paladin

    Paladin Overjoyed Man of Liberty

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    Dune is deservedly a sci-fi classic, and its influence is undeniable. I like the weird David Lynch film adaptation and am really looking forward to the Villeneuve version.
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  26. Lanzman

    Lanzman Vast, Cool and Unsympathetic Formerly Important

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    Now see, I've always found Dune to be overly wordy, dense for density's sake, with bland characters and a generally flat writing style. Some of Herbert's other works, like Hellstrom's Hive, are much better.
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  27. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    Wisdom of Solomon - KJV

    So this is pretty good for the most part, although lacking the proverbial structure of Proverbs. It starts with praise for righteousness, then decries the hedonism of the ungodly and their hatred for the righteous man ("He was made to reprove our thoughts", in line with shootER's current signature). Even though the ungodly may seem to torment and conquer the righteous in this life, the righteous will have their reward in the next life, and it will be awesome and the wicked will despair. This goes on for a while. Next the writer, in the voice of Solomon if not necessarily the actual flesh, talks about his ardent desire for wisdom above all else. Righteousness and wisdom are main focuses of this book, until they give way to focusing on God's mercy and wrath. It gets a little confusing at the end, but definitely trying to talk about Moses in the bulrushes and the subsequent Exodus. This book is worth its while, with a lot of good phrases, even if has little in the way of new or unique theology, and I expect I'll return to it again.
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  28. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

    Stevens is an English butler in one of the "great houses", nearing the end of his career in the 1950s. He now works for an American who has bought the house, but spent most of his life working for the former owner, Lord Darlington. He takes a few days off to travel around the country. The book is his telling in the first person of that trip - including what happens and more importantly his reminisces of his life as he retells his experiences concerning his former employee and his relationship with the former housekeeper, Miss Kenton - who Stevens plans to meet on his trip.
    Stevens is an emotionally repressed individual who has subordinated himself entirely to his professional role. He considers this to be "dignity", the highest ideal of a butler. He was clearly in love with Miss Kenton (and she him) but he was unable and unwilling to behave other than coldly towards her. He slavishly served Lord Darlington even as the latter consorted with Nazis and continues to defend this behaviour (as well as the aristocracy in general) many years later.

    It's a fascinating character study. Stevens is not so much an unreliable narrator as a deluded narrator who lies to himself more than the reader, unable to come to terms with the significance of events that are happening to and around him. He's a pitiable being despite his pomposity and the climax of his story is utterly heartbreaking. One could argue that this is a deconstruction of the English character and worldview in the post-colonial period. (Though Suez is not mentioned, the week of Stevens trip coincides exactly with the crisis.)

    I'd already seen the movie (which is equally good). Already being somewhat familiar with the story probably helped me gain a deeper understanding, although I was also robbed of some of its impact. I definitely recommend this one.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2020
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  29. NAHTMMM

    NAHTMMM Conversant in dark parables

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    Last time on Book Thread: NAHTMMM . . .

    "Well let's see what's up next in the Apocrypha, something called Sirach, mm-hmm . . . 51 chapters?!"

    And now, the continuation.




    The Red Threads of Fortune - J. Y. Yang

    I get to start this off with a disclaimer of conflict of interest! :Oooo:

    You see, the author and I, we go way back on the ol' internets. :diacanu: they might even remember my username if you asked them about me So it's only fair to note that I will be inclined toward treating this positively. However, I had nothing to do with the previous novella in the series being nominated for a Nebula. That one is next on my list to read, once I dig it out from the moving box.

    So, uh, Sanao Mokoya is really messed up. She's a woman with violent tendencies and a painful tragedy in her past that have driven her away from civilization. She now lives in the desert, hunting not-wyverns that have strayed over from their home continent and gotten cranky over the local increased gravity. Her skills in Tensing the Slack (basically an elemental, string-based The Force) let her use telekinesis when she wants, which is useful, and see the future when she doesn't want, which is not fun. But an extra-dangerous not-wyvern is now on the loose, one that has dire implications for a nearby mining city. Was it set loose on purpose? Who would have done such a thing? Was it politically motivated? Can she find it and neutralize the threats it represents before the city is destroyed or torn apart? Who is this new stranger from the not-wyvern's homeland, and what is their purpose? And what horrors lie in her own past that torment her still?

    The uneven gravity and the Slack are two of the more prominent examples of Yang building a world that is very unlike ours, but still recognizable enough to be relatable. Astronomy, species, society, politics, technology and magic, and sexuality are all ground that Yang covers in just over 200 pages while also building up Mokoya's life and incidentally writing a few pretty solid action bits. I wondered, as I read the first few pages, whether Yang was committing the excited rookie mistake of piling it all on a little too fast and a little too raw. But . . . you ever find yourself kinda on the outside looking in at a work of art feeling out of step with it? You can tell there's something there but it's not quite clicking into place for you. And then partway through, or on a later listen if it's a song, everything just falls into place. That happened here; about 2/3 of the way through, I found Yang's pace of storytelling and worldbuilding had suddenly become perfectly natural without me realizing it. And then I went back and reread the first few pages when I was done, to be sure, and I think the pacing is fine throughout. The main thing, I think, is that Yang isn't just throwing out words without tying them to something, and important words are brought up repeatedly to provide sufficient points of reference.

    So: The prose is good, the pacing is good, the worldbuilding is good, the characters are good, the story and plot are good. More profanity than I'd like but such is the nature of the decaying world we live in. And also, it has a pretty sweet cover.
  30. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie

    This is a history of the Sicilian Mafia, covering its origins in the 19th century due to the weakness of the new Italian state (pretentions to a descent from middle-ages chivalry notwithstanding) to it's export to the US, to being decimated by Mussolini, to revival after the war (largely as an effort to counter communism) to it's battle with the Italian state (peaking in the 90s with a bombing campaign) to more recently becoming a much more submerged organisation.
    I also had expected this book to cover the American Mafia - it touched only on its genesis before returning to Italy, which was disappointing. But that's my fault.

    Not being that familiar with the subject, I did learn quite a bit. However, as can happen with this kind of book where reliable information is hard to come by, the author struggles to present a consistent narrative and quite often lurches into repetitive anecdotes about the various mobsters and their dastardly deeds. This aspect improved as he approached modern times - when despite its corruption, some aspects of the state (led by Giovanni Falcone, subsequently murdered) succeeded in severely damaging the Mafia. Presumably this has something to do with the number of informants.
    Above all, one is left with a shocking perception of the backwardness and corruption of Italy. Dickie published this in 2003 as Sylvio Berlusconi was in power and beginning to be investigated for all sorts of things, some of them involving the Mafia. There were further revelations to come.
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