Reading is Fun!

Cheese, baby! It’s all about the Cheese when you blog…

So, what have I been reading lately? Oh I know you want me to tell you. Mostly reading for fun, which I’ve been able to do since I finished my Ph.D. last year. So here’s the last five books I read and what I thought of them — going from the most recently finished backwards.

1. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson: I’ve read nearly every book published by Gibson (sans All Tomorrow’s Parties, I think), and what always brings me back is the crisp language — overflowing with brands and style, future forward ideas, and other ephemera of modernity — and the rapid pace of his plotting. They’re just a joy to read. Pattern Recognition is no exception. Very post-9/11, spy play, and elements of Naomi Klein’s No Logo all wrapped up in a neat package about the birthing of internet sub-cultures and the hunt for the maker of some clandestine movie footage. But really it’s just about a girl coming to grips with the loss of her father on 9/11. Simplicity… it’s in the details… that and a pair of Bruno Magli shoes…

2. & 3. Evil for Evil and The Escapement by K.J. Parker: These two books are the last two in a trilogy that I find it difficult to explain why I like. “The Engineer Trilogy” by Parker is a fantasy series set in a rough late Renaissance/early Industrial Revolution setting that follows an exiled engineer from the Perpetual Republic of Mezentia who engineers a series of events (his Grand Design) that result in war, destruction, and devastation, all in the hopes of returning home and being reunited with his family. Where Gibson’s book are rapid-fire, Parker takes a much more languid approach, revelling in the motivations and mental world view of the perspective characters, and taking the time to flesh out the people and cultures of her setting. What I find fascinating is the intricate focus on engineering and the world view of an engineer, namely the main character, Ziani Vaatzes, that seems so alien to me. I don’t think like this, either in my everyday life or in my scholarly work, and thus I had difficultly wrapping my head around it, which only drew me into the books further. Hell, I couldn’t even tell you what a lathe is without looking it up; this POV just isn’t my headspace. Good, absorbing reads…

4. Singularity Sky by Charlie Stross: Hard Science Fiction has never been my bag. I remember trying to get into Isaac Asimov in middle school and failing; I’ve never read anything by Arthur C. Clarke (a shame, I know, shut up); and work by dudes like Poul Anderson, Frederick Pohl, and the like have never been high on my to read list. Now, Stross isn’t some Hard Sci Fi dinosaur; don’t get me wrong. But the technical content is his work (he has, among many of his lifepaths, a background in computer science) is utterly bizarre, over my head, and I can’t get enough of it. It’s that difference thing again (see #2 & #3 above): I can’t relate and I want to know more. Singularity Sky is one part space opera, two parts techno thriller, and one part hard sci fi kitsch, with a dash of cyberpunk sensibility tossed in for good measure. It’s his first published book, very cutting edge sci fi, and of course is the last Stross book I’ve read (I’ve already this year gone through Glasshouse and Halting State, and I read Accelerando some time last year — next up, Iron Sunrise). Do not piss off the Eschaton…

5. Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley: The Entertainment Weekly pull quote on the back cover describes this as “Heroic fantasy splashed with 300-style gore….” Yep, that’s pretty much the gist. Epic fantasy without frilly elves and lots of archaic language (and again, don’t get me wrong, I do like that stuff too, from time to time); this is the kind of fantasy fiction I want to write. Intricate and action-filled, well thought out and irresistable to put down, the best compliment I can bestow upon it is that, in many good ways, it reminds me of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. I’m axiously awaiting the next book in paperback…

Well, there you have it, the good books I’ve been reading while riding bikes and ellipticals as the gym.

Oh, what am I reading next, you say? Or working on right now? Well, it’s all a bit more academic in scope. There’s a biography of Andrew Jackson by Jon Meacham (called American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House) that I started yesterday; The Discovery of France by Graham Robb, which I’ve been trying to read for the last several months; and I will soon be reading Stephen Kotkin’s Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse 1970-2000 since I assigned it for my course on Europe since 1945 next spring. My next fiction will probably be Stross’s Iron Sunrise, and of course I’m also reading The Boy parts of The Hobbit at night before bed.

What have you been reading?


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