What are you reading?

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Andrew
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Andrew » 06 Jun 2010, 11:26

Jadagul wrote:On a random note: am I the only one who regularly looks forward to exposition and infodumps in the novels he's reading? Especially in fantasy and sci-fi, I usually find myself waiting anxiously for the next big chunk of exposition about the setting.
I agree with DAR that more gradual and subtle reveals are preferable, but if done well, I don't mind infodumps too much. However, the history of the maltese falcon was almost completely irrelevant. All that was important was that it was valuable and people were willing to go to great lengths to get it. Most of the rest was unnecessary filler.
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Eric the .5b
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Eric the .5b » 06 Jun 2010, 16:56

"Alright, class, if you'll open your textbooks to chapter 7, we're going to talk about expodumps in SF and Fantasy, from 1950 to the first Singularity..."

It all depends on the writer for me. Old-school flat expodumps are far rarer than they used to be, and even back in the 50s and 60s, writers worried about how to present strange worlds and societies without long third-person or in-character lectures. Even the better writers who used them (like Heinlein) actually measured out the expodumps fairly well, and they could give their expodumps personality - the lecture of the government teacher, the explanation of the world-weary prospector, the cynical aside of the prisoner.

Then there's Neal Stephenson's work, which is some ungodly percentage expodump, but entertaining because the guy's exposition, like his non-fiction work, is fun to read.

The extreme alternative to expodump, like the way Dan Simmons opened up the first Hyperion book, is challenging, but interesting: simply explain nothing about the setting and terminology of this world thousands of years in the future (outside of reasonable dialog) until at least a quarter of the way through, then slowly slip explanations out in dribs and drabs, when the reader's already gained a vague idea of what's going on. That approach can be oddly immersive.

Most of the time, I prefer reasonable exposition delivered as brief explanations. Let me know why characters are acting or reacting that 2010 earth-dwelling me might not otherwise understand, and focus on the important things.
Eric produces a slapdash example - imagine something better-written wrote:After walking along the Sea Street, Jandi entered a neighborhood had clearly fallen from more prosperous days. Beautiful houses, some looking to date back to Imperial days, stood empty, or at least supposedly so; she thought she saw eyes peeking out from dark windows more than once. She had the sidewalk to herself, and she realized why when she came in sight of the address on the note. She managed not to stop or turn, but to keep walking.

A squad of guardsmen in black-enameled armor surrounded the old manor that was certainly her destination. More would be inside, she knew, tearing the place apart. Anyone they'd found would be bound and hooded, awaiting transport to that bit of Hell known as the Old Center Prison. They'd be capped and probed, and cold-eyed technicians would pore over their visual and aural memories from the last week or so.

She blessed her brother for the sneak-holster he'd gotten her; without it, the guardsmen could detect her gun from this close. The little pistol was worse than useless against that black armor and would get her arrested at best, killed at worst. But she could avoid either fate right this moment - crossing the street to avoid the scene was what any citizen with a brain would do, and she did so in the most scrupulously legal way. Soon, she was at the next corner, and then out of sight.

No, what Jandi feared was that anyone inside knew her face or name.
Exactly how long ago were Imperial days? Why is it no longer Imperial days? What sort of gun is she carrying? Does it shoot bullets, a pulsed UV laser, or plasma in the 40 watt range? How would they detect the gun, and how does the sneak-holster work? Why only scan the memories of the last week or so?

Not important right now. What's important is that she was able to avoid immediate danger, but that she has reason to still be afraid.
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Eric the .5b
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Eric the .5b » 06 Jun 2010, 17:01

dhex wrote:google returns zero results and suggests a misspelling?
They're just Robert A. fans. ;)
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Eric the .5b
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Eric the .5b » 06 Jun 2010, 17:38

I just finished reading the RPG Diana, Warrior Princess, something I'd meant to do for a little while.

The premise of the game is that it's the setting of a series from a thousand or two years in the future where the writers paid as much attention to historical, geographic, etc. accuracy as the writers of Hercules and Xena did. Warrior princess Diana fights against the evil war-god Landmines, backed up by her sidekick Fergie and her allies Red Ken and Wild Bill Gates. Due to her mystical royal powers, Diana never gets her leather armor soiled, and she can cure dread diseases such as lepus by laying on hands.

In the sample adventure, Emperor Norton of much of America asks you to guard his legislature's president, John F. Kenny, during a tense negotiation with Elliot Ness, the representative of the Untouchable underclass. All the while, you're on a riverboat that leaves from Dallas Harbor to go down-river to Boston. Part of the way, the river goes through Indian Country, inhabited by tribes of turban-wearing men and sari-wearing women. The riverboat gets attacked by helicopter gunships, which can be countered with arrows, gunshots, or (in an example from the playtesting) using a diving board to jump up onto the skids of one of the choppers.

That sort of craziness. It's fun stuff, and the setting guidelines and genre instructions are thoughtfully written. The mechanics are mildly rules-light, which is appropriate, and the art is by Aaron Williams, the guy who does Nodwick and PS238.
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Stevo Darkly
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Stevo Darkly » 06 Jun 2010, 19:37

Oh, that kind of stuff is fun! When you think about how the far future (or not so far future) will remember the present age, with all sorts of Hollywood-style inaccuracies...

In one of John Barnes' SF books, set several hundred years in the future, the protagonist says that his favorite war "movie" as a kid was The Invasion of Normandy -- especially the scene where the machine-gun-toting Vikings assault the beaches ...

In Ken MacLeod's The Stone Canal, one of the character's has a dream that she's living in the fabled 20th century. There's more detail from more-or-less the present day retained, but it's still pretty mangled. The character dreams that she's been kidnapped by the evil villain, who is holding her in the mile-high tower of a Kuomintang drug lord in Old New York. However, her father is planning a rescue, and he has enlisted the desperate wild Chechen tribesmen of the South Bronx to bolster the ranks of his regular mercenaries and household troops, and tanks are fighting their way through the streets of Manhattan even as we speak ...
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Eric the .5b
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Eric the .5b » 06 Jun 2010, 20:03

Hah!
"Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."
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dhex
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by dhex » 06 Jun 2010, 22:51

"i ran over the cat and didnt stop just carried on with tears in my eyes joose driving my way to work." - God

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Number 6
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Number 6 » 06 Jun 2010, 23:05

D.A. Ridgely wrote:
Jadagul wrote: As for philosophy, I'm pretty convinced by Rorty's argument that linguistic analysis is basically all that modern analytic philosophy is capable of.
Of course, the meaning, let alone truth of this assertion depends significantly upon its analysis. (*grin*)
Philosophy is certainly Balkanized, but the analytic school is definitely dominant. I did Philosophy at a Jesuit school, and my education in the subject was more traditional. Continental thinkers like Hiedegger (who is all but unreadable, and, I think, largely full of shit) and Derrida were about as modern as we got. A class in Symbolic Logic was as analytical as I got.* Hence, when I got out of school and started reading Philosophy on my own, I came to the disturbing realization that I was missing out on pretty much everything that was going on in Phil these days. I'm embarrassed to admit that I escaped college without having read Wittgenstein, and knew no Quine at all. (The latter, I still know only through references in other works).
The thing about analytic Phil is that it is nearly as esoteric and abstruse as high-level math stuff. It is not at all accessible to the layman. And frankly, it's not very interesting to people outside of the field. Contrast that with books like The Open Society and its Enemies**, which is readable by anyone willing to spend the time with it. To me, one Popper is worth a thousand analytic people arguing some fine point of Boolean logic.

I took a couple of graduate level Poli Sci classes (one at the masters and one at the PhD level) and found that while the coursework was quite a bit more demanding** that at the undergrad level, the material really wasn't all that difficult. Of course, it presumed a level of background knowledge, but that's true at the higher levels of any field. Rachel is right about the journals, of course, although I found some Journal articles fascinating.

* Everyone should do a semester of this.
** Hannah Arendt was, along with Foucault, the focus of one of those classes. I found Arendt heavy going. It's not that her ideas are hard. They're not. But her prose reads like someone who grew up speaking German. They syntax is stilted and odd, and sentences often go on for nearly a page. I found her thinking interesting, but her writing exhausting. Foucault, OTOH, I found easy in terms of both ideas and language. I should note that few people shared my view.
" i discovered you eat dog dicks out of a bowl marked "dog dicks" because you're too stupid to remember where you left your bowl of dog dicks."-dhex, of course.
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D.A. Ridgely
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 06 Jun 2010, 23:10

More a case in this instance of what I am about to re-read, I found a copy of Hector Hawton's Philosophy For Pleasure today at a local used book store and then discovered to my delight that is it (once again) in print.

I read this book over 25 years ago and used to recommend it eagerly to anyone interested in a survey of the history of Western philosophy from the ancient Greeks to the 20th century analytic movement. Somewhere over the years I lost my copy of it and then, worse yet, forgot the title and author's name -- no wisecracks, youngsters; it'll happen to you eventually, too. I'll be interested in finding out if my youthful enthusiasm was well founded. Hawton was not a professional philosopher, as his lucid prose (if memory serves) repeatedly demonstrates.

I would, by the way, continue to recommend the unfortunately out of print A Hundred Years of Philosophy by John Passmore to anyone interested in an excellent survey of 20th century philosophy. It's practically a graduate education in a single volume.

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Sandy
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Sandy » 07 Jun 2010, 00:03

Eric the .5b wrote:In the sample adventure, Emperor Norton of much of America asks you to guard his legislature's president, John F. Kenny, during a tense negotiation with Elliot Ness, the representative of the Untouchable underclass.
Please tell me that when the President is assassinated, someone yells, "Oh my god, they killed Kenny! You bastards!"
Hindu is the cricket of religions. You can observe it for years, you can have enthusiasts try to explain it to you, and it's still baffling. - Warren

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thoreau
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by thoreau » 07 Jun 2010, 00:57

I'm reading Nixonland. Right now I'm on the summer of 1967, and all the many, many lies told during Vietnam. And I keep wondering whether the author got his dates and countries confused and meant to write about Iraq in 2004-2005. They've actually got dumbfucks saying "Look! Painted schools!"

No doubt we'll repeat these mistakes yet again some day. So, let me pre-emptively say that I support the flying killer robots fighting for our freedom in [insert country here] in 2040. The naysayers need to realize that we're totally winning hearts and CPUs this time. The flying killer robots even paint schools between missions!
"They were basically like D&D min maxers, but instead of pissing off their DM, they destroyed the global economy. Also, instead of their DM making a level 7 paladin fight a beholder as punishment, he got a +3 sword of turning."
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Eric the .5b
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Eric the .5b » 07 Jun 2010, 12:29

Sandy wrote:
Eric the .5b wrote:In the sample adventure, Emperor Norton of much of America asks you to guard his legislature's president, John F. Kenny, during a tense negotiation with Elliot Ness, the representative of the Untouchable underclass.
Please tell me that when the President is assassinated, someone yells, "Oh my god, they killed Kenny! You bastards!"
No, but Emperor Norton texts you a message including, "SOME BASTARD IS TRYING TO KILL KENNY".

Text messages in this setting print out on ticket-tape from a slot on one's bulky, twin-antenna (complete with Jacob's Ladder sparks) cell phone.
"Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."
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JD
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by JD » 09 Jun 2010, 10:24

I'm reading the debut novel by a friend of mine: The Corpse Wore Pasties. It's fun, kind of a lighthearted modern noir, if that makes any sense. Protagonist is wrongly suspected of murder and must avoid the police while trying to find the real killer - a pretty typical setup, except that a noir protagonist usually isn't a long-haired bohemian who at one point hides from the police by donning a zeppelin costume.

It's also fun to read a novel in which three-quarters of the characters and locations are either thinly fictionalized versions of people and places you know, or pastiches of such, and try to figure out who's who, but the characters and settings are colorful enough they'd be fun even if you didn't know them.
I sort of feel like a sucker about aspiring to be intellectually rigorous when I could just go on twitter and say capitalism causes space herpes and no one will challenge me on it. - Hugh Akston

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Taktix®
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Taktix® » 12 Jun 2010, 23:26

GinSlinger wrote:(I may just be paranoid (that does not mean they're not out to get me (though it doesn't mean they are, either (or, does it?)), but I hope that agreement wasn't of the brow-beaten variety (hey, it's been known to happen).)

Anyway, this subject actually nicely abuts something one of my colleagues and I were just speaking about--jargon and theory. Since the "cultural turn," a lot of history has been increasingly theory driven. For some that's a good thing. But, for a number of reasons it ain't my bag. One of those reasons was co-majoring in polisci as an undergrad and watching the navel-gazing devolve into inaction. All prose eventually came to be explication of theory, and none devoted to substance. Well, history wants to go that way. Shem can tell you about this (in case you don't believe me (Shem, IIRC, considers himself a social historian, which makes him redeemable (maybe even good) in my book)). The "cultural" or "linguistic turn" I believe may be what makes lit crit unreadable by the general audience (now dhex can school me on how wrong I am). I think history is still read by a broader audience (and, hell, isn't that what lib arts should be?) because it's approachable by a lay audience and that seems to rely on it being relatively (or, dog-willing, completely) free of overt theory of the type that propagates jargon.

And I'm all for it.

But, to return to the original purpose of my posting on this subject, What, Taktix, would you have us do?

That's not sarcastic. That's a plea from someone who wants people to read my future work.
Finding some sort of narrative to weave the details around helps readability immensely. Having some sort of character for the reader to identify with, be it some significant figure or whomever, helps the casual reader to stay interested through otherwise tedious yet important details.

And be careful not to appear too argumentative when there is a disagreement between two schools of thought on an issue. I'm reading a bargain-bin book on rather general European history, and the author comes across as very spiteful when he has a disagreement with prevailing views.
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Shem
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Shem » 12 Jun 2010, 23:46

The theorification (just to butcher the language) is a real thing, unfortunately. It would make me roll my eyes and say "wake me in a generation when the next crop of young turks are sick of your BS,"** but unfortunately it's happening at the same time as people like Glenn Beck are teaching themselves and others to weaponize history using grossly warped trappings of the academy. What might otherwise be worth blowing off (it's history; barring catastrophe, it'll still be there when people with more sense come along) becomes a concern, as the people who need to compete in the public sphere to defend the practices are increasingly unwilling/unable to do it.

**Being able to take such an attitude is the benefit of not trying to make a living at the history game. I think the most valuable thing I learned from my undergrad degree was that I love history way too much to go into academia.
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Number 6
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Number 6 » 12 Jun 2010, 23:52

Shem wrote: I think the most valuable thing I learned from my undergrad degree was that I love history way too much to go into academia.
That, in a nutshell, is why I never tried to go for a PhD in Philosophy.
" i discovered you eat dog dicks out of a bowl marked "dog dicks" because you're too stupid to remember where you left your bowl of dog dicks."-dhex, of course.
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Hugh Akston
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Hugh Akston » 13 Jun 2010, 00:17

Number 6 wrote:
Shem wrote: I think the most valuable thing I learned from my undergrad degree was that I love history way too much to go into academia.
That, in a nutshell, is why I never tried to go for a PhD in Philosophy.
It was a lesson I learned all too late.
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Pham Nuwen
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Pham Nuwen » 13 Jun 2010, 02:36

Okay. Finished "The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart". Fucking amazing. I went to find out if the author had written anything else and it turns out this is his first novel. Further searching drew me to the story of how he claims to have found the inspiration for the story. His three part essay is also fucking amazing. But it won't make a whole lotta sense without having read the novel.

http://www.orbitbooks.net/2009/11/10/a- ... ts-part-1/

http://www.orbitbooks.net/2009/11/13/a- ... ts-part-2/

http://www.orbitbooks.net/2009/11/16/a- ... f-history/
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Dangerman
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Dangerman » 15 Jun 2010, 14:47

I'm finishing Otherland, By Tad Williams. It reminds me of some of William (I call him Bill) Gibson's later stuff, a la Virtual Light, with less tech-y edges and more emotional content. Well written and the plot moves between some disparate settings that keep you guessing without feeling lost or strung-along. The book is mostly set in South Africa, but a great deal of time is spent with the characters using full-immersion VR on 'The Net', or in one case, in a series of seemingly unconnected dreams or fantasy settings that vaguely parallel each other and RealLife/RL (to use the terms T. Williams uses). The main characters include a university teacher, a Bushman, [complete with a glottal stop in his name (!Xabbu)] two legendary MMORPGamers , a eight year old girl, and a WW1 doughboy trapped on Mars.

I like it, and will read more of Williams' stuff. His writing style is smooth and readable for me, and manages not to repeat any egregious sci-fi cyberpunk tropes.

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JasonL
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by JasonL » 15 Jun 2010, 15:34

Dangerman wrote:I'm finishing Otherland, By Tad Williams. It reminds me of some of William (I call him Bill) Gibson's later stuff, a la Virtual Light, with less tech-y edges and more emotional content. Well written and the plot moves between some disparate settings that keep you guessing without feeling lost or strung-along. The book is mostly set in South Africa, but a great deal of time is spent with the characters using full-immersion VR on 'The Net', or in one case, in a series of seemingly unconnected dreams or fantasy settings that vaguely parallel each other and RealLife/RL (to use the terms T. Williams uses). The main characters include a university teacher, a Bushman, [complete with a glottal stop in his name (!Xabbu)] two legendary MMORPGamers , a eight year old girl, and a WW1 doughboy trapped on Mars.

I like it, and will read more of Williams' stuff. His writing style is smooth and readable for me, and manages not to repeat any egregious sci-fi cyberpunk tropes.
Tad Williams frustrates me. I love the concept and execution of his books ... up to about the halfway point in the second installment when you realize he's been wandering without any structure for 400 pages at least. He never really gets it back. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn had a lot of cool stuff in it, but it just gets lost in 10,000 unnecessary pages.

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dhex
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by dhex » 15 Jun 2010, 15:37

oranges are not the only fruit.
"i ran over the cat and didnt stop just carried on with tears in my eyes joose driving my way to work." - God

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JasonL
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by JasonL » 15 Jun 2010, 15:43

Is that a book or a comment on Tad Williams or a comment on my comment about Tad Williams? Something else?

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Shem
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Shem » 15 Jun 2010, 15:51

It's a rather tedious novel. But then I hate most of the "coming of age" genre, so I might not be fair.
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dhex
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by dhex » 15 Jun 2010, 15:54

contra shem, it's a rather well-written novel and an interesting glimpse into family life in a hard core evangelical 60s/70s british family. i am not one for the genre by and large - nor female novelists, truth be told - but it's a-ok in my book. i may just be recovering from the trauma of to the lighthouse, however.
"i ran over the cat and didnt stop just carried on with tears in my eyes joose driving my way to work." - God

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Shem
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Re: What are you reading?

Post by Shem » 15 Jun 2010, 16:01

dhex wrote:i may just be recovering from the trauma of to the lighthouse, however.
Ew. I didn't think anyone actually read that. I sure couldn't make myself finish.
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