Bragan Tackles the TBR in 2023, pt.4

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Bragan Tackles the TBR in 2023, pt.4

Editado: Out 6, 2:37 am

Well, I suppose we're far enough into the year, somehow, for it to be time for a new thread for the last quarter. After a nice little flurry of reading at the end of last month, my first book of October is going at a much more leisurely pace, but until I finish that, here's a recap of my year thus far:


1. All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
2. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
3. The Who Revealed by Matt Kent
4. Lost Places by Sarah Pinsker
5. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
6. Did You Just Eat That?: Two Scientists Explore Double-Dipping, the Five-Second Rule, and other Food Myths in the Lab by Paul Dawson & Brian Sheldon
7. Tiny Deaths by Robert Shearman
8. Head On by John Scalzi


9. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
10. The Celery Stalks at Midnight by James Howe
11. Joan is Okay by Weike Wang
12. The Appalachian Trail: A Biography by Philip D'Anieri
13. Pastoralia by George Saunders


14. Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: an Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R. F. Kuang
15. Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook
16. Precious and Grace by Alexander McCall Smith
17. I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book by Iona & Peter Opie
18. Upgrade by Blake Crouch
19. What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
20. Vallista by Steven Brust
21. Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard


22. A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest by William deBuys
23. Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
24. The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich
25. The Illustrated Al by "Weird Al" Yankovic, et al.
26. The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
27. Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara by David Fisher
28. The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
29. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
30. The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey


31. The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America's Food by Matthew Gavin Frank
32. Adventure Time Presents: Marcy & Simon by Olivia Olson
33. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
34. Letters from Side Lake: A Chronicle of Life in the North Woods by Peter M. Leschak
35. The Wishing Pool and Other Stories by Tananarive Due
36. The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects by Mike Mignola
37. Never Panic Early by Fred Haise, with Bill Moore
38. The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
39. Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater


40. The Third QI Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, James Harkin, and Andrew Hunter Murray
41. Adventure Time Vol. 1 by Ryan North
42. Elemental Haiku by Mary Soon Lee
43. Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
44. The Skeptic's Guide to the Future by Dr. Steven Novella, with Bob Novella and Jay Novella
45. Desert Creatures by Kay Chronister
46. Tsalmoth by Steven Brust
47. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
48. Adventure Time Vol. 2 by Ryan North


49. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
50. Smithsonian Treasures of the National Air and Space Museum by Tony Reichhardt
51. The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 edited by Carmen Maria Machado
52. Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith and Boulet
53. Go Team Venture!: The Art and Making of The Venture Bros. by Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer with Ken Plume
54. The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
55. Cat on the Edge by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
56. The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders


58. Adventure Time Vol. 3 by Ryan North
59. Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris
60. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
61. The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley
62. The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World by Patrik Svensson
63. The Wonderful Doctor of Oz by Jacqueline Rayner
64. Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen


65. Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
66. On Immunity: An Innoculation by Eula Biss
67. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
68. Fun with Kirk and Spock by Robb Pearlman
69. The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith
70. The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston
71. Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell
72. The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book by Bill Watterson
73. Hide by Kiersten White
74. Roadside Geology of New Mexico by Halka Chronic
75. The Ruby's Curse by Alex Kingston, with Jacqueline Rayner
76. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Out 6, 7:35 am

Happy new thread! Can you believe it's the fourth quarter already?

Out 6, 9:08 am

Fourth quarter! I'm going to need to be taking out the goalie soon if I'm going to reach my modest yearly goals.

Out 6, 12:41 pm

>2 labfs39: These days, I am pretty much in a perpetual state of not being able to understand how time is going to fast. :)

>3 rocketjk: I deliberately decided not to set any goals at all this year, and somehow I've still been worried about not meeting them.

Out 6, 10:32 pm

77. Paperweight by Stephen Fry

A collection of short pieces by actor/author/comedian Stephen Fry, published in 1992, most of it originally written for radio or newspapers. They range from silly humor to more serious opinion pieces (although even the latter mostly tend to have some humor in them). There are also two pieces of fiction: a Sherlock Holmes pastiche which was lightweight but pleasant enough, and a two-act play that he wrote when he was twenty-two, which unfortunately was trying way too hard to be edgy and transgressive and mostly just ended up being kind of uncomfortable.

All of it showcases Fry's usual style: highbrow references, a twenty-dollar vocabulary, and a lot of esoteric wordplay, all of which might feel insufferably pretentious if it weren't produced with genuine enthusiasm and a refusal to actually take itself seriously that often cheerfully teeters over into self-deprecation. Which I suppose isn't for everyone. I generally enjoy it well enough, although this collection did make it clear to me that I enjoy it more in verbal than written form. I could watch Fry babbling away as the host of QI all day, but a little bit of these pieces goes rather a long way. Which, in fairness, is something Fry himself is well aware of, and he warns us flat-out in the introduction that this really just isn't something suitable for reading straight through, but is best dipped in an out of a little at a time. I really should have taken that advice better, honestly. I read it over the course of about six days, but even that was too high a dose, and it started to wear thin for me well before the end. It didn't help, either, I'm sure, that a lot of the contents haven't traveled well across multiple decades and the Atlantic ocean, as there were a lot of very specific references that I'm sure would have been a lot more meaningful to someone in Great Britain in the 1980s than to an American in the 2020s.

Rating: I want to give this a 3/5 based on how much I ended up enjoying it, but that feels unfair, really, because I probably would feel more enthusiastic about it if I'd read it the way it was actually intended to be read. So I'm going to bump it up to a 3.5/5.

Out 9, 7:06 pm

Back to The Three Body Problem, I loved it too. I'm not a very science-literate person, but when I'm enjoying a good science fiction story I tend to let things slide and not fret too much if I don't understand it all. I mostly liked the second volume in the trilogy, but I've set asid the third volume for a few years now (I own it). I found it was becoming a bit "space-wars"-ish, which I don't usually like. Will be interested to see what you think.

Out 9, 9:02 pm

>6 arubabookwoman: I am sometimes a bit too science-literate to properly appreciate SF, because so much of it gets it wrong. This one wasn't wrong, though, just weird, which is more interesting. And perhaps more forgiving for those who aren't science-literate, as it's still going to leave you going WTF? a bit whether you are or not. :)

Out 9, 9:19 pm

78. The Last Word by Taylor Adams

Emma reads a deeply terrible self-published novel about the murder of two women, told with a little too much relish from the killer's POV. She leaves a one-star review. The author is not pleased. And then she realizes that someone is after her...

I have to say, early on I was wondering if picking this one up wasn't a giant mistake. There's something about having the main character nitpicking a badly written thriller that makes it much harder not to notice all the imperfections and implausibilities in the work you're currently reading. But, credit where it's due, the author of this one does take some of those resulting expectations about narrative and play around with them in some at least mildly clever ways. Most of the twists still end up being pretty obvious, and I can't exactly say it made my pulse pound in suspense or anything, but it did work better than I expected it to, and the end result is a fast-reading and fairly pleasant (albeit violent) piece of slightly meta-feeling brain candy.

Rating: 3.5/5

Out 14, 9:02 am

79. The Magician's Daughter by H. G. Parry

Biddy lives on the magical island of Hy-Brasil, where she has been raised by Rowan, a mage who tells her she came to him as the only survivor of a shipwreck, and his rabbit familiar. But now, sixteen years old and longing to experience the outside world, she is coming to realize that there are things that Rowan hasn't told her, and that all of them are in danger.

There's some very familiar fantasy tropes here -- I am beginning to wonder if I maybe haven't seen "magic is disappearing from the world!" one too many times -- but what the novel does with them is good, and its take on the things that magic can do in the world is both interesting and very, well, magical. The plot is decent, and Biddy is a great character, clever and brave, but also completely believable as a teenage girl who doesn't feel herself to be anything extraordinary. Her relationship with Rowan, too, is complicated and interesting, being far from perfect, but strong and loving and rather moving, nonetheless. There are also some undercurrents of social commentary that aren't preachily belabored, but are well-taken.

Basically, it's just a good, solid, well-done fantasy novel.

Rating: 4/5

Out 14, 9:16 am

>9 bragan: This seems interesting. I had never heard of H. G. Parry.

Out 14, 12:54 pm

>9 bragan: What Chlorine said, it does sound interesting.

Out 14, 6:19 pm

>10 chlorine: I didn't think I had, either, but it turns out I did already have her The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep on my wishlist.

>11 FlorenceArt: It may not exactly be the instant classic the cover blurb wants me to think it is, but it did do what it's doing nicely and hit the spot for me really well.

Editado: Out 15, 7:07 pm

Hello! I just discovered that I'd missed your whole Q3 thread so am posting here so I won't lose this one. Too many books in the Q3 thread to comment on all the ones I wanted to! But a couple of things - count me as another fan of The Greenlanders, I'm glad you liked it; and thank you for the review of The Three Body Problem - it's one of the books that I've owned so long it's lost its appeal, and your review has me intrigued again.

Out 15, 6:29 pm

>13 wandering_star: Hi! Glad to know you made it here this time!

I think both The Greenlanders and The Three-Body Problem are books that worked much better for me than it sort of seems like they should, but I am far from complaining about that.

Out 16, 6:32 pm

80. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

Two men named Wes Moore grew up in almost the same place at almost the same time under very similar circumstances: poor, Black, raised without a father in a neighborhood ravaged by violence and drugs. Wes Moore, the author, managed to have a highly successful life and is now, more than a decade after this book was published, serving as the governor of Maryland. The other Wes Moore was sentenced to life in prison for his part in a jewelry store robbery in which a policeman was fatally shot. Wes Moore, the author, found himself unable to stop thinking about the coincidence and the extent to which it seems like each of them could have so easily had the other's life. And in this book, he tells both of their stories.

It's an interesting and depressing look at what life is like for young men growing up in such circumstances, and, for those privileged enough not to have any idea what it's actually like to experience this kind of life, a useful one. But I can't escape the feeling that there's something a bit unsatisfying about this as a book. Maybe it's just that the author doesn't have any answer to the question of what it is that made the difference in the two men's lives, other than pure, random luck. Which I think is a good answer, and almost certainly the right answer, and I applaud him for resisting the temptation to invent any easier, neater, more self-serving ones. But having come to accept that lack of other answers, what do you do with that? What insights do you take away from it? There aren't a whole lot of those here, either, and while I'll take a shrug and an "I don't know" over a simplistic made-up answer any day, I am still left with a sense of something slightly incomplete.

Rating: 3.5/5

Editado: Out 17, 8:27 pm

81. Adventure Time Vol. 4 by Ryan North

The fourth collection of comics based on the Adventure Time TV show, because even after watching all of the sequel/spinoff Fionna & Cake, I still cannot get enough of this stuff.

This one starts with a one-shot featuring Magic Man, which was OK, then gives us a multi-part story in which Finn, Jake, and the Ice King explore a particularly interesting set of dungeons. Which was fun, and weird, and kind of creepy, and featured a lot of the Ice King being unbelievably tragic. And, man, even though, like Jake, I find myself wanting to shout, "DUDE. STOP MAKING ME SAD," the truth is, I eat up tragic Ice King with a spoon. Like a big old bowl of sad, weird, crazy ice cream.

Rating: 4/5

Out 17, 5:47 am

>15 bragan: Great review. I read this book long ago and didn't review it, probably felt I couldn't do it justice. Interesting to read some of the less starred reviews....

Out 17, 1:58 pm

>15 bragan: I'd had that one sitting on the TBR for ages and ages and ages. It was one of those ones I kept coming back to and thinking "I really should read that soon," and then not doing it. I feel like maybe I would have appreciated it more with less build-up, honestly, but I'm glad to have finally read it, at least.

Editado: Out 22, 3:57 pm

82. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

In this very short novel (or perhaps it's a novella?), a plague of insomnia has been sweeping the world, one that can only be treated by donations of sleep from others, and we watch a woman whose job it is to recruit these donations struggling with the ethics of her job and her approach to it.

Which makes this sound like an interesting but fairly straightforward sort of science fiction story. It's not. It's odd, hard to get a handle on, and, perhaps fittingly, rather dreamlike. Aspects of it feel deeply realistic, and others fantastic or almost mystical. The writing is a bit strange, too, giving the impression that the writer was happy to just throw all kinds of weird descriptions and metaphors at everything to see what stuck, with some results that are breathtakingly perfect and others that are borderline nonsensical. In a different sort of work, I might criticize that. In this one... maybe it works.

Thematically, it feels like it could, perhaps even should, be saying something simple and clear, but the more I try to draw one-to-one comparisons with obviously relevant real-life scenarios, the more I find my brain slipping around and getting lost in complexity and metaphor. Whatever I might make of it, I will say that it resonates strongly with issues about disease and treatment, capitalism and exploitation, generosity and greed, privacy and intimacy.

Rating: 4/5

Out 20, 4:25 am

>19 bragan: That was an interesting review.

Out 20, 1:07 pm

>20 chlorine: It was an interesting book!

Out 22, 3:52 pm

83. The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell

A celebration of bookshops/bookstores all over the world, featuring profiles of specific new and used bookstores, random snippets of interesting bookish facts, bits of interviews with booksellers, and short pieces from a variety of authors talking about their favorite bookshops, their dream bookshops, and the bookshops that shaped their lives.

Actually, I say "all over the world," but that's a little bit misleading, as the book really doesn't make much of an attempt to be equally inclusive of bookstores from all over. By far the largest and most detailed section is on bookshops in the UK, where this volume was published, and which the author clearly has far and away the most personal knowledge of. Most parts of the non-English-speaking world, by contrast, have only a few shops featured, with just a paragraph or two supplying some interesting facts about them. So those expecting something truly exhaustive and international, as opposed to something a bit more scattershot and personal, might find themselves disappointed. Fortunately, I didn't have any strong expectations one way or another, and I like scattershot and personal just fine.

You absolutely do have to be someone with bookstores in your soul to properly enjoy it, though. I mean, there's not huge amounts of substance here, and I suspect anyone else is likely to get bored pretty quickly of yet another description of bookshop decor or yet another earnest declaration about the satisfaction of holding real paper books. But I think it's safe to say there are a lot of us here on LT who do qualify as the right audience for this sort of thing. And I know it made me feel dreamily excited to imagine myself walking among all those varied shelves, and nostalgic for every bookstore I've ever been inside, and pleasantly itchy with the desire to go find some overstuffed secondhand bookshop to explore right now. Ah, I can almost smell the ink and paper... And it doesn't take any more than that to make me happy, really.

Rating: A thoroughly biased and unobjective book-lover's 4/5.

Out 24, 6:26 am

>22 bragan: This doesn't seem to be my cup of tea but I can see how this book can be perfect for the right audience. :) It would have been perfect for a challenge I'm participating in which the goal for October was to read a book in which a place about books plays an important role. :)

Out 24, 10:00 am

>23 chlorine: I'd say it would count many times over! :)

Out 27, 10:54 pm

84. Thirteen Storeys by Jonathan Sims

Tobias Fell was a multi-billionaire recluse living in the penthouse of a rather strange apartment building.... until he invited thirteen very different people to a dinner party, all of them associated in some way with the building and all in some way haunted. It ended in the violent death of Fell, and with no one who was present being willing to breathe a word of what happened.

I picked this one up because I absolutely loved Jonathan Sims' horror fiction podcast, The Magnus Archives. And I think for fans of Magnus, there are a lot of elements here that will be familiar. We've got a bunch of little stories about people, each in their own unique ways, having creepy encounters with the supernatural, all of which end up eventually fitting together into a larger narrative, and we've got the use of supernatural horror to reflect on the real-life horrors of exploitation and capitalism.

But, while this isn't bad, I did find it a little bit disappointing by contrast. I was less impressed with the writing here than in Magnus, maybe in part because here we're lacking Sims' fantastic delivery to breathe wonderfully disturbing life into his words. And the social commentary aspects feel a lot more heavy-handed and a lot less nuanced. The structure, while interesting, didn't entirely work for me, either, as each little sub-story just ends quite abruptly, with a dinner invitation right where the exciting climax should be.

All that having been said, though, I did still certainly find it worth reading. When Sims hits with the creepiness, he really hits, and even if he mostly doesn't manage it here as well as he does in the podcast, there are still some very good moments. If nothing else, the chapter about the plumber is definitely going to stick with me for a while. And the central idea is a really clever, interesting, and suitably horrifying variation on haunted house stories, one that impressively widens their scope.

Rating: 3.5/5

Out 28, 3:45 am

>84 bragan: Too bad this book wasn't as good as it was promising to be!

Out 28, 2:54 pm

>26 chlorine: I partly blame my own expectations, honestly.

Out 28, 5:15 pm

>25 bragan: Rather than adding a book to my wishlist, I'm adding a podcast.

Out 28, 8:15 pm

>28 RidgewayGirl: Oooh, excellent! I very much recommend the podcast, if you're into horror at all. For what it's worth, I advise not looking up information on it in advance. It does some really interesting things as it goes along, and I think the less spoiled you are for any of it, the more interesting it is. (I've also heard that they've added some ads for the new RPG based on the show that's coming out to old podcasts on the feed, and that those looking to completely avoid spoilers should probably try to skip those, but I haven't checked that for myself.)

If you do give it a listen, I'll be very interested to hear what you think of it!

Out 29, 5:58 am

>22 bragan: As a former bookseller I am tempted, but life is short :-)

Out 29, 8:08 am

>30 avaland: If it helps, it's divided up into fairly bite-sized chunks, and is great for dipping in and out of.

Out 30, 8:28 pm

85. Kindling by Kathleen Jennings

A collection of fantasy stories of various kinds, many with strange echos of fairy tales. Some of these I quite liked, others left me kind of cold. Some have rather lovely prose, but my overarching impression is of a sort of off-kilter quality that is hard to put my finger on, but that left me feeling a bit off-balance. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, by any means, but in this case, while it was often genuinely interesting to read, I can't say it entirely worked for me.

Rating: 3.5/5

(Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.)

Out 31, 2:09 pm

>32 bragan: Nice cover anyway!

Out 31, 9:58 pm

>33 FlorenceArt: It's kind of a nifty cover, except that it took me ages to realize that the person pictured on the matchbox has red hair, rather than a bald, weirdly pointy head. :)

Editado: Nov 12, 12:59 pm

86. I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum.

A collection of articles and essays by TV critic Emily Nussbaum. There's one (about The Sopranos) that was was originally published in 2007, but otherwise they all seem to be from the 2010s, including a couple that are original to this 2019 collection.

They're fairly varied. Some are short commentaries on individual shows, others use specific shows to make larger points, and some are rather broader, like an essay on the subject of product placement in TV. There are also some profiles of particular showrunners.

Nussbaum writes with a distinctly feminist sensibility, although it is a variety particularly her own, as someone who enjoys edgy, raunchy humor and sees a valid place for stories about sexual assault and violence against women on TV, but who also has very strong feelings about the way television, and especially the shows that get labeled as "prestige television," so overwhelmingly center the straight white male perspective both in front of and behind the cameras, and about the ways in which stories more squarely aimed at women tend to be treated dismissively.

She's a good, interesting writer making some good, interesting points, and, somewhat to my surprise, I found that even when she was talking about shows I'd never seen -- which was probably at least half of them -- she almost always still easily kept my attention. And, really, I'd say this entire collection might be worth it just for the long, thoughtful essay she wrote in the wake of #metoo, grappling in a deeply honest way with the impossible question of how much it's possible to separate art from artist and what we can or ought to do with good art by terrible people.

Rating: 4/5

Nov 5, 1:31 pm

>86 bragan: Yes, but what does she think about Dr Who

Nov 5, 1:39 pm

>36 baswood: Alas, she does not comment on Doctor Who. She was a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though. :)

Nov 10, 9:50 pm

87. Akin by Emma Donoghue

Noah is about to head off to spend his 80th birthday in France, where he was born, although he hasn't been back since he was a child, when he suddenly finds himself with emergency custody of his great-nephew and has no choice but to bring him along on the trip. They don't exactly relate to each other easily. Meanwhile, he's also looking for answers to some recently raised questions about his family history.

It's hard to describe my reaction to this novel, because I feel like I have a lot of good will towards it, and yet I find it lacking at the same time. I do relate to Noah and his well-meaning but deeply awkward attempts to connect with the boy, who has had a really rough life but who is also just obnoxious in that way that only eleven-year-old boys can be. Noah and his concerns and his little lectures and everything felt very real to me, too, but 340 pages of basically nothing but those concerns and lectures was a bit much, and after a while I found my perspective popping back and forth between feeling like I was listening to this sympathetic old man rambling on about stuff he cared about and feeling like I was sitting through an author expositing at length about the results of the research she did on topics like photography and chemistry and prisons and the history of Nice and the French resistance. Which did try my patience a little.

It probably didn't help that I didn't find any of the family mystery stuff especially compelling, nor did I actually buy into any of the preliminary conclusions Noah jumps to about his mother enough to be emotionally invested in them. I mean, I liked Noah well enough, so I cared that he cared, but I didn't care much in my own right, if that makes sense, except for a few genuinely touching moments towards the end. I cared a lot more about his relationship with the kid, but there's not really any big breakthrough that happens there, despite Noah making a major but fairly predictable decision about it at the end.

So, basically... I liked these people (well, OK, like is a strong word for the kid, but he definitely had his moments), and I believed in them, and I didn't mind spending time with them. I finished the novel with a feeling of genuinely wishing them well. But I also finished it feeling glad to finally be leaving their company. So I think this one would have worked better for me if it were, say, novella-length.

Rating: 3.5/5

Nov 11, 10:01 am

>38 bragan: I read this recently, and although I liked it a little better than you did, primarily because I liked the WWII history bits, I do agree with "nor did I actually buy into any of the preliminary conclusions Noah jumps to about his mother enough to be emotionally invested in them." I found that to be contrived as a plot device.

Nov 11, 11:22 am

>39 labfs39: Yeah, I can believe that he maybe would jump to those conclusions, because even logical people can do that when it comes to big personal, emotional stuff like that. But it led to me spending way, way too much of the novel just waiting for him to realize he was wrong so we could get on with things.

Nov 11, 11:49 am

>40 bragan: I agree. I thought that even if he had jumped to that conclusion, he took way too long to come around. It's like he was ignoring the evidence, and I didn't find that compelling. Why would he? He was a)logical about other things and b)fond of his mother.

Nov 12, 12:58 pm

88. Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny

This short SF novel from 1969 is set in a world ravaged by nuclear war, in which most of the United States has become a hellish wasteland ravaged by giant monsters and winds so high they can rip the tops off of mountains and drop them on your head. Boston, or what remains of it, is now also afflicted by a plague, so they sent a messenger to California, since it survived a a similar plague and is in possession of a treatment. He died on arrival, though. Now California is sending Hell Tanner, the lone survivor of the exterminated California biker gangs and an unrepentantly awful person, on the drive through Damnation Alley to deliver to cure.

All of which sounds incredibly pulpy, but it's elevated by Zelazny's writing, which, indeed, actually gets a little too overwroughly poetic in places. It's an engaging enough read, in any case. Definitely of its time, though: the dialog is very 1969, and the only significant female character is pretty terrible. Even so, it maybe still holds up better than some of its contemporaries.

Rating: 3.5/5

Nov 12, 2:57 pm

>88 bragan: This one is on my wishlist. I was so impressed by Zelazny's Princes of Amber that there was a time I wanted to read all these books.
I've read and enjoyed most of them but the urge to read them all has lessened. As you say, they're a product of their time and not so appealing to me now than they were.

Nov 12, 7:21 pm

>43 chlorine: Zelazny at his best was a fantastic writer. This particular one was not among his best, maybe, but what he does with it is at least a lot more interesting than many would have managed.

Have you read his short stories? Some of those are really impressive.

Nov 13, 1:04 am

>44 bragan: I have read a few of his short stories but not many. I remember reading The doors of his face, the lamps of his mouth when I was around twenty, not used to reading short stories, in translation, and still being really impressed. More recently I read Unicord variation which I really enjoyed and projects the same kind of atmosphere that I really like with Zelazny.

I have a challenge to read all words which won the Hugo or Nebula award and Zelazny has won some so I'll probably pick up a collection of his work at some point. Any one you recommend?

Nov 13, 5:04 am

>42 bragan: Was there a movie adaptation at some point? The story rings a bell though I’m sure I never read the book. Like Chlorine I loved the Princes in Amber series, at least the first few books.

Nov 13, 10:50 am

>45 chlorine: "The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth" and "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" are two stories I remember being really impressed by. Not sure which collection the second one is in.

>46 FlorenceArt: Apparently there was a movie adaptation, in 1977. I've never seen it. Somehow, I suspect it wasn't very good.

I also just heard yesterday that there may be a Netflix series adaptation of the Chronicles of Amber in the works, which sounds like it could be very cool.

Nov 13, 11:18 am

>47 bragan: I’m probably thinking of something else, I don’t think the movie I saw was that old.

I made a search on Zelazny on the Kobo shop and found quite a few books. Including the “landmark” (so the blurb says) short story collection Dangerous Visions, which I may or may not have read, a long time ago, but would probably be worth a (re)read. It’s on pre-order now and scheduled to be released in 2024.

Nov 13, 1:27 pm

>48 FlorenceArt: I remember reading that one in high school, and it was very edgy for when it was published and still very much so by my teenage standards a couple of decades later, but I have no idea how it holds up these days.

Nov 17, 12:09 am

89. The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record by Jonathan Scott

The Voyager spacecraft were the first human artifacts to leave our solar system, and, barring unlikely accidents, they will be drifting around out there for a long, long time. Before the launch, a group of scientists and others, lead by Carl Sagan, got the idea to include a message for anyone who might, by unfathomable chance, find the spacecraft out there in the emptiness. So was born the golden record project, preserving a sample of the music, sounds, and sights of Earth for galactic posterity.

Jonathan Scott's book covers various aspects of the project: how it was conceived and carried out, the discussions behind the selections, the personalities involved and their relationships, influences from outside the project, and a bit of discussion of how the physical records were made and what the spacecraft accomplished. The author has an interest in astronomy but a passion for music (especially for writing about "unusual records"), and that makes him an interesting and entertaining person to bring us this story. His writing is breezy, informal, and fun, but his appreciation for this weird, wonderful, ridiculous, profound project, and for the people behind it, comes through very strongly.

Being the giant space nut that I am, I'd read a fair amount about this subject before, including Murmurs of Earth, which discusses the contents of the record in detail, with a complete set of the photographs and commentary from various people involved. (Scott draws very heavily on that book, unsurprisingly.) But I do feel like this volume gave me a greater appreciation for it all, and I come away feeling especially impressed by how anyone was able to pull something like this off in six short weeks, in an age when finding suitable materials and getting in touch with people about using them all had to be done via snail mail, landline telephone, and knowing someone who knows somebody who happens to be an expert on the musical genre you want to include, or who speaks the language you want to record.

Rating: 4/5

Nov 17, 6:25 am

>50 bragan: Nobody's got in touch yet? perhaps they didn't like the music.

Nov 17, 8:52 am

>42 bragan: Far from his best. All the tough-guy tropes with little of the humor and vulnerability.

>46 FlorenceArt: >47 bragan: The movie was indeed not good.

Nov 17, 8:56 am

>43 chlorine: >45 chlorine: Lord of Light is usually thought the best of his early novels; dated, of course. I recommend "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" and "The Keys to December" for early short stories. The Hugo voters This Immortal with Dune in that year; it's good and fairly short.

Nov 17, 8:58 am

>48 FlorenceArt: Zelazny had only one short story in the quite long Dangerous Visions anthology, FYI.

Nov 17, 10:07 am

>50 bragan: That looks like a fun book, indeed. Remind me, though: what year did they send the Voyager spacecraft out with that record on it?

Editado: Nov 17, 10:11 am

>55 rocketjk: Was 1977

Nov 17, 1:11 pm

>54 dukedom_enough: Yes, I expect each story is by a different author.

Editado: Nov 17, 2:00 pm

>51 baswood: Well, the poor thing's barely toddled out past our front porch yet. :)

>52 dukedom_enough: He at least does something a bit more nuanced with the tough-guy tropes than you might expect from this sort of thing, but, yeah. It was the right kind of readable for me while I was lying exhausted on the sofa recovering from my latest covid shot, but I don't think anyone is going to call it his best.

>53 dukedom_enough: As far as his novels go, I remember being very fond of Doorways in the Sand, but I think that may be more of an idiosyncratic personal fave that a good general recommendation.

>55 rocketjk: Whoops, I thought I included the years somewhere in the review, but apparently I forgot! But, yep, was indeed 1977.

Editado: Nov 17, 2:42 pm

90. The Mysteries by Bill Watterson and John Kascht

Yes, that's that Bill Watterson, of Calvin & Hobbes fame. This is not Calvin & Hobbes, but it is, perhaps, similar, in that it's something very simple-looking that feels like it has a lot more depth behind it.

I suppose one can only describe it as a picture book for adults. (And I do think it's aimed at adults. It's a bit dark for kids, although maybe how appropriate that is depends on the kid.) The black-and-white illustrations are weirdly compelling, dark and atmospheric in a way that may leave you feeling interestingly off-balance.

The story is just a few short lines per page and has the feel of a slightly abstract fairy tale. Which may not seem like much, but the ending kind of made the hairs on my neck stand up. It ultimately feels very much like an allegory, but the personal exercise of considering what exactly it's an allegory for is, I think, the most interesting part of reading it. So I won't share any of my thoughts on the matter, but only say that I could see at least of couple of different ways of reading it, including a message I like and approve of and one I don't. I'm going with the former, naturally.

In any case, it is definitely a much bigger experience than it looks like you're likely to get out of this small, slim square of a book.

Rating: 4/5, although I am seriously wondering if I should bump that up half a star.

Nov 17, 2:39 pm

>53 dukedom_enough: I read Lord of Light ages ago when I wanted to read all of Zelazny's work. I remember liking it. I'm noting your recommendations for short stories. That makes it two for A rose for Ecclesiastes, which must be popular. :) Actually the title seems familiar to me so I may have read it but don't remember it at all, which calls for a reread.

>90 bragan: This seems really intriguing, thanks for a good review (wrong touchstone btw)

Nov 17, 2:42 pm

>60 chlorine: D'oh, thanks, I really should have remembered to check the touchstone. Fixing!

Nov 17, 5:46 pm

>57 FlorenceArt: Sorry if I'm mansplaining there.

Nov 17, 5:48 pm

>60 chlorine: I haven't reread that story since the 1970s, so there's a possibility I remember it incorrectly, I suppose.

Nov 18, 12:42 am

Bettyyyyyy! Are ya readyyyyyy?!

OK, I don't care for Tennant at all, but I must admit this is brilliant:

The Fourteenth Doctor is Here! | BBC Children in Need 2023 | Doctor Who

Editado: Nov 18, 1:55 am

>62 dukedom_enough: Not at all, it wasn’t really clear from context that I knew what kind of book this is.

Nov 18, 2:03 am

>64 LolaWalser: Very nice! I dont follow Doctor Who at all, but this is a great clip.

Nov 18, 2:34 am

>64 LolaWalser: Yeah, I just watched that a little while ago, and it's a really fun clip!

I have no idea if I'm ready at all. I love Tennant as an actor (and have just come to love him more as time goes on), but he was my least favorite of the modern Doctors, and bringing him back seems gimmicky, so I'm all conflicted and not sure how I'm going to feel about any of it. And yet, I am getting a bit excited to see how it goes now. :)

Nov 18, 3:16 am

>64 LolaWalser: OMG! Thank you for this. I'm in a bit of Tennant withdrawal after having watched Good Omens.

Nov 18, 1:15 pm

>68 chlorine: In my experience, the best way to deal with that is to watch Good Omens again. :)

Nov 18, 2:06 pm

>69 bragan: I am actually doing that currently. :)

Nov 18, 2:21 pm

>70 chlorine: Excellent choice. Carry on. :)

Nov 18, 2:55 pm

>71 bragan: But there are so few episodes! :,(

Nov 18, 4:21 pm

>69 bragan: I rewatched that final episode just a few days ago. I was hoping to discover that we'd only watched half that episode the first time, but sadly I just got to feel my heart break again.

Nov 18, 4:26 pm

>72 chlorine: That is a problem, yes. Sigh.

>73 RidgewayGirl: I know, it's going to be a long, long wait for S3 to come and fix our poor little hearts.

Nov 20, 12:33 am

91. The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

A very unusual sort of cold war spy thriller from 1969. Emily Pollifax is a widow in her sixties, feeling bored and depressed about not having anything interesting to do with her life now that her children are all grown. Perhaps now is the time to chase the unfulfilled dreams of her youth? She did have fantasies, once upon a time, about being a secret agent. So she presents herself at CIA headquarters and volunteers her services. And, wouldn't you know, thanks to an unusual set of circumstances, they just happen to need someone who fits her exact profile for a very simple, low-risk mission... which, of course, doesn't go quite according to plan.

It's a silly premise, but fun. The plot isn't in itself super compelling (although it does end in a pleasantly satisfying way), but the main character is so appealing that she effortlessly carries the story all by herself. She's just such a great combination of an everywoman whose reactions to her situations are immediately relatable (like just really, really, really wanting a bath after multiple days in captivity) and a surprisingly impressive and admirable person: formidable, practical, adaptable, intelligent, and oh-so-easy to underestimate. Honestly, I was already fond her her five pages in, and I only grew more so the more I saw of her.

Rating: 4/5

Nov 20, 1:52 am

>91 bragan: Thanks for a great review. Mrs Pollifax seems like a great character!

Nov 20, 3:15 am

>76 chlorine: She's amazing. I want to be her when I grow up. :)

Nov 20, 7:29 am

>75 bragan: I love Mrs. Pollifax! I first encountered her when I was quite young and loved her even then. I have read several of her books, but this one remains my favorite.

Nov 20, 3:26 pm

>78 labfs39: I'm definitely going to have to read more of the series.

Nov 20, 6:03 pm

Another Mrs Pollifax fan here! I have The Amazing Mrs Pollifax lined up to read later this month.

Nov 21, 1:57 am

>80 wandering_star: I have already added that one to my wishlist!

Nov 21, 6:04 am

92. 100 Ways to Write Badly Well by Joel Stickley

100 pieces of very bad (or sometimes just very badly applied) writing advice, with brief demonstrative examples.

The examples are amazing. It genuinely does take real talent to, well, write badly this well. Some of these are laugh-out-loud hilarious. Some are sort of painful to read, but in entertaining ways. Some actually sort of work as tiny comic stories. Some of them are dizzyingly clever. And some are just silly fun.

And while this is mainly just meant to be funny, I have seen people making some of these kinds of writing mistakes, albeit in less absurdly extreme form, so it might actually serve as a pretty good example for aspiring writers of what not to do. "Banish 'said' from your vocabulary," for example, or "present your research in the form of dialog," or "make your characters incapable of learning anything."

Rating: 4.5/5, because it was just that delightful.

Nov 21, 2:03 pm

>82 bragan: This sounds fun! However I'm not sure it would be as fun for me as a non-native English speaker.

Nov 21, 8:42 pm

>83 chlorine: Hmm, hard to say. He is having a lot of fun playing with the English language, at least in some of the entries, so it's quite possible not all of it might work as well for non-native speakers. I suspect it'd probably still be entertaining, though.

Nov 21, 11:04 pm

>82 bragan: I read some of the online preview and had quite a giggle, though some parts I literally couldn't read (e.g. "Don't worry about tenses") because they made my eyes hurt.

Nov 22, 12:08 am

>85 rhian_of_oz: There are a few of them that definitely have the eye-hurting effect, but I even find those amusing, too, even if they're painful. :)

Nov 22, 7:53 am

>82 bragan: I had to add this to my wishlist. It reminded me of when I was in college and a student writing tutor. Once I was assigned to a psych class, and students had the option to turn their papers in to me for review before submitting them to the professor. I particularly remember a paper about animal locomotion. Misplaced modifiers had cages hopping, darting, and slithering around the classroom. Very funny.

Nov 22, 8:34 am

>87 labfs39: There is definitely an entry in the book about that sort of thing!

Nov 24, 3:57 pm

93. System Collapse by Martha Wells

Here's the latest installment in The Murderbot Diaries series, featuring everybody's favorite formerly enslaved killer cyborg who these days just wants to watch TV and protect the humans (and the one very significant bot) that it cares about.

This one follows directly on from the end of Network Effect. Which is maybe a bit of a problem, as it had been a while since I read that one -- there was a whole volume in-between that was set earlier, after all -- and my memories of the plot details were a bit fuzzy. Which I was worried for a while was a real problem, as Murderbot keeps alluding to a particular disturbing thing that happened to it that it doesn't want to talk about, and I kept sort of wracking my brain trying to think if I knew what that was supposed to be. But, nope, it was a thing that happened in the brief space between books, and you do find out eventually what it was. (I really don't think that counts as a spoiler. Sort of like the opposite of a spoiler, really, being an assurance that, no, you don't in fact know this plot point!) And, that aside, I think you don't actually have to remember the earlier book perfectly to follow this one.

The plot of this one is okay, although I do feel like it takes about half the book to really get into any of the interesting action. But, let's be honest, I'm not primarily reading these for the plots, anyway. I'm reading these because I love Murderbot and its struggles with its emotions, its delightful sarcasm, its complicated relationships (especially with aforementioned bot), its development as it figures out what it really wants out of life, and, most especially, for the little moments when I find myself going, "Oh, Murderbot, honey," and wanting to hug it. (Not that I would, because it hates that. But maybe I could show it some nice new TV episodes or something.) I think it's really only in the second half of the story that we start getting many of those moments, too, but when we do, there are enough of them to leave me happy.

Rating: 4/5

Nov 25, 5:32 am

94. Monstress Volume 8: Inferno by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

The eighth collected volume of the dark fantasy comic Monstress.

I always have the same problem with this series. It's all so fantastically complicated -- in terms of plot, worldbuilding, character, and pretty much everything else -- that I manage to mostly lose track of it all in the wait between volumes. (I know, I know. A smart person would deal with this issue with a refresher re-read, or by saving the whole series up to read at once. What can I say? I am not always that smart.) The thing is, though, even when I know there are a lot of things I'm missing because I've forgotten important details, even when I'm honestly not entirely sure what's going on... Even then, it's still weirdly compelling, in its own strange, messed-up, darkly beautiful kind of way. And this volume -- which was probably even weirder than usual -- was no exception.

Rating: 4/5

Nov 25, 6:55 pm

95. Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut's Photographs from a Year in Space by Scott Kelly

A coffee table book full of photographs astronaut Scott Kelly took in and from space. There's a section featuring images of life aboard the ISS and other pictures from his mission there, and one of lovely images of Earth showing its curvature, often with glowing aurora or with parts of the ISS also visible, including some space selfies in front of the station's cupola windows. But the bulk of it is made up of what Kelly calls "Earth Art": color-enhanced images of strikingly complex or varied terrain on the Earth's surface, some of which do look rather like abstract art. It's beautiful stuff, well-presented, although the accompanying text is fairly sparse, so don't expect any long explanations abut the geology of what you're looking at.

I have several books of Earth-from-space photographs now, and I never, ever seem to get tired of them. It really is an amazing planet we've got here.

Rating: 4/5

Nov 25, 9:34 pm

>91 bragan: This sounds lovely. I just requested it from the library.

Nov 26, 12:45 am

>92 labfs39: It is very much worth a look!

Nov 26, 1:59 am

>89 bragan: I'm currently rereading the Murderbot books and based on your review I'll approach System Collapse without setting my hopes too high. IME this greatly improves my enjoyment of a book.

>90 bragan: Monstress seems quite interesting! I see it's been translated to French and is available at some libraries around me. I'll have to pick it up some time!

Nov 26, 2:20 am

>94 chlorine: Tempered expectations are always good, I suppose! Based on some of the other reviews I've seen of System Collapse, I think a lot of people were setting them a bit too high. It's Murderbot, and Murderbot is always good, but it wasn't the complete standout that some might have been hoping for as a follow up to Network Effect.

And Monstress is great, although be warned, it's also very dark and very violent. And clearly best read without huge time gaps between volumes!

Nov 26, 5:39 am

>95 bragan: The fact that Monstress is available at the library and that I hear about it after several books have been out would definitely help me reading the books close to each other if I like them! :p

Nov 28, 6:32 pm

96. What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

A short spinoff from Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, featuring Peter Grant's young cousin Abigail. While Peter is off investigating missing girls in the countryside in Foxglove Summer, Abigail is back in London investigating a different set of missing kids with the help of some talking foxes, an investigation that eventually turns into a sort of haunted house story.

It's a little simpler than the novels in the main part of the series, but that's fine by me, as I admit I sometimes find the plots of those a little difficult to follow, anyway. It is a bit of an odd read, as it has something of the feel of a kids' book, even though the series itself is definitely not for children, and there are a few things in this one that probably wouldn't be considered entirely suitable for actual 13-year-olds, either. Abigail's a fun character, in any case. Occasionally I think she may be a bit too precocious, but then I remember what I was like at her age (a giant know-it-all, basically), and decide maybe she's not too unbelievable, after all. Although she's definitely braver than I ever was.

The writing style is interesting, full of slang that feels strange to me but which may very well be exactly how kids in London (or at least in Abigail's particular community) talk these days. The plot is maybe almost a little too lightweight and easily wrapped up, but it's not unsatisfyingly so.

I don't think this is an essential part of the series (at least, not unless later books refer to it in some way I don't particularly expect them to), but it's a pleasant enough diversion along the way. And probably actually stands on its own reasonably well, too.

Rating: 3.5/5

Nov 29, 5:16 pm

Just popping in to see what you have been reading....which is always interesting!

Nov 29, 5:16 pm

>98 avaland: Thanks! Always good to see you!

Editado: Dez 4, 11:57 am

97. Translation State by Ann Leckie

This novel is set in the same world as Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy (Ancillary Justice and sequels). While I suppose it theoretically can stand on its own, I would recommend reading the trilogy first, partly because some things may make a bit more sense that way, but also because it's great.

Anyway, this one involves a Presger Translator (humans modified by the incomprehensibly alien Presger to be their go-betweens with the rest of the galaxy) who ran off and disappeared into human space somewhere two hundred years go. It features three main characters: one who has been sent off to investigate this very old mystery (but is not really expected to do so, or even to work too hard at it); one who, it quickly becomes apparent, is a descendant of the original runaway; and an almost-but-not-quite adult Presger translator hoping to follow in that runaway's footsteps.

I enjoyed this well enough, really, so I feel a little bit bad that most of what I have to say about it sounds so negative. Maybe it's a bit unfair to compare it to the much more sweeping trilogy, but be that as it may, it's hard not to notice that I didn't find it nearly as engrossing. And, while the characters are likable enough, they don't feel terribly well-drawn, with the possible exception of Qven the juvenile translator (who is strangely charming despite the, uh, cannibalistic tendencies). And while the plot setup is interesting, it relies on a massive set of coincidences to get everyone related to this two-hundred-year-old cold case in the same place at the same time... and then resolves a little too quickly at the end, with everyone getting out of a difficult situation they've been in for many chapters so suddenly I'm genuinely not sure what they actually did to manage it.

There is a lot of interesting stuff in the middle, though! Leckie is really good at creating a big, complex universe, and that definitely is in evidence here. There's politicking, factions, dangerous extremists with an understandable cause, conspiracy theories, old resentments, and plenty of other things that all feel very gratifyingly realistic. It was also interesting to get more of a look into the Presger translators, where they come from and how they think.

On the other hand... One of the really cool things Leckie does in the Radch trilogy is linguistic. The narrator there comes from a culture with no concept of gender, and in supposedly translating the narrative for a culture and language that does, she arbitrarily picks a pronoun and just calls everyone "she." Discarding gender entirely, not being told the sex of anyone in the story, and being given a female pronoun as the default creates a really fascinating shift of perspective in the reader, in a way that's eye-opening and memorable and clever. Well, in this one, she's also playing around with pronouns a bit. We have cultures with one gender and other cultures that have three, and there are different choices of third pronoun for each culture, and all of that sounds theoretically interesting, but in practice the whole thing just ends up being used in a very familiar early-21st-century "please respect my pronouns!" kind of way. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing; reflecting the present is a big part of what SF does, and in this case it fits well with some of the novel's themes about personal choice and identity. The problem, in my opinion, is that it does so in a way that exposes a glaringly obvious gap in the worldbuilding. Because we don't actually get any idea whatsoever what those identifications actually mean. Gender identification, surely, is about your relationship to your body and/or to your culture. You don't have a relationship to a syllable unless that syllable actually means something. What are the traits, expectations, social roles, standards of appearance that your society applies to the genders it recognizes, and which of them fits you? Right? But there's no indication of any of that at all here, in any of the three-gender cultures. Indeed, there's not much of anything bringing these cultures to life outside of their interstellar politics and a couple of food choices. Previously, we learned lots of stuff about the Radchaii, not just their ideas about gender, but their attitudes, their taboos, their notions of what's polite and what's rude, their clothing, etc. But there really isn't any of that here, outside of the exploration we get of life among the Translators' young.

Again, all that having been said, it's not that I didn't enjoy the story. I did! It was interesting, the world-building stuff that Leckie did do was cool, and I liked the not-actually-a-romance thing that develops between two of the characters. But it does just feel like it's missing some things I would have liked to be there.

Rating: 3.5/5

Dez 5, 10:41 am

>100 bragan: Interesting. I didn't read the third book of the Radch trilogy; must do that. I did like the first two books.

Dez 5, 12:54 pm

>101 dukedom_enough: I really enjoyed the whole trilogy.

Dez 7, 1:37 am

>100 bragan: Interesting review of Translation state. I intend to read it some day but have to read Provenance first.

Dez 7, 1:28 pm

>103 chlorine: I don't think it particularly matters which order you read those two in, for what it's worth.