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Reading, Reading, Reading

I have been doing a lot of travelling of late -- Germany, Sweden, Finland, Chicago -- and that means I have been doing a lot of reading as well. When I travel, I read. Always have, always will. There's no better way to fill the endless hours on the plane, and the strange hours in the middle of the night when the world is sleeping but you're awake, thanks to jetlag.

A few words about some of the things I've read are in order, therefore.

I read the new Eric Larson bestseller, DEAD WAKE: THE LAST CROSSING OF LUSITANIA. Larson is a journalist who writes non-fiction books that read like novels, real page-turners. This one is no exception. I had known a lot about the Titanic but little about the Lusitania. This filled in those gaps. Larson's masterpiece remains THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, but this one is pretty damned good too. Thoroughly engrossing.

I read an ARC of the long-awaited new novel from Ernie Cline of READY PLAYER ONE fame. ARMADA, like READY PLAYER ONE, is a paean to the videogames of a bygone era, and like READY PLAYER ONE it is a tremendous amount of fun for anyone who remembers that time and played those games. (Those who did not may find it incomprehensible, admittedly). Those of you who liked the old movie THE LAST STARFIGHTER will really like this one. Hugely entertaining... though it does make me wonder if we'll ever see Ernie write something that isn't about videogames. He's a talented guy, and I am sure that anything he writes would be terrific.

I read the mega-bestseller THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, by Paula Hawkins, a mystery/ thriller/ novel of character about three women who live near the train tracks of a London commuter lines, and how their lives and loves get entwined when one of them disappears under mysterious circumstances. Fans of Gillian Flynn's books will probably like this one too. I know I did... though I don't think Hawkins is quite as deft a writer as Flynn. The first person voices of the three narrators sounded too much alike, I thought, but that's a minor quibble. The main narrator, an alcoholic who is slowly falling apart, is especially well drawn. It's a strong story, with a great sense of time and place, and one that had me from start to finish.

I read ANGLES OF ATTACK, by Marko Kloos, military SF, third book in his series, and the immediate sequel to LINES OF DEPARTURE, the novel that was (briefly) a Hugo finalist thanks to the Puppies before its author withdrew it as an act of conscience. I'd read LINES OF DEPARTURE as a result of that, my first exposure to Kloos. I liked that one well enough, but didn't love it. ANGLES OF ATTACK is, I think, better. I'm still the wrong audience for this -- my list of "great military SF novels" includes STARSHIP TROOPERS, BILL THE GALACTIC HERO, THE FOREVER WAR, and an oldie called WE ALL DIED AT BREAKAWAY STATION, but not much else -- but these are very entertaining books. Since I know there are a lot of fans of military SF out there, I'd say that ANGLES OF ATTACK might actually have an outside chance at earning a genuine Hugo nod solely on its merits... assuming the Puppies don't slate it again. In any case, Kloos is a writer to watch. (I do hope this series isn't going on for twenty more books, however. I want to know more about his gigantic and enigmatic aliens, and I want a resolution).

Oh, and I also read a lot more of this year's Hugo nominees. The stories and books that were NOT withdrawn. Hoo boy. More on that later. Suffice it to say that I was very glad that I had the books listed above to hand, to cleanse my palate after sampling some of the Hugo stuff.


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Jul. 14th, 2015 07:13 pm (UTC)
Germany, Sweden, Finland, Chicago - cool!
Jul. 14th, 2015 07:17 pm (UTC)
I'm now reading The Three Body Problem based on your recommendation. It's great, but I'm still not sure what the heck is going on!! LOL
Kevin Lierman
Jul. 14th, 2015 07:32 pm (UTC)
Devil in the White City
I read the Devil in the White City recently and couldn't help but have that history color my Grateful Dead experience a bit. Glad I caught to meet you and Parris on a bench in the Chi. Much love and success to you and your family.
Jul. 14th, 2015 07:34 pm (UTC)
Oh my goodness. Someone else who knows WE ALL DIED AT BREAKAWAY STATION. I read that in high school and was just blown away by it...
Hazem El-Dabbah
Jul. 14th, 2015 07:35 pm (UTC)
You gotta add "The Harafish" by Naguib Mahfouz to your reading list. It's really one of the best.
Jul. 14th, 2015 07:49 pm (UTC)
Did you love to play those old retro video games? Because I think READY PLAYER ONE is rather disinteresting to someone who doesn't have that passion for them.
Jul. 14th, 2015 08:09 pm (UTC)
Being from Merseyside the sinking of the Lucy is a big deal here. Perhaps more than the Titanic considering the horrific circumstances of its destruction even though both had large numbers of local staff on board (don't think you hear one local accent in the Cameron film though!). One's an accident, the other is mass murder at the hands of both the Germans and the British government. Who smuggles explosive weaponry on a passenger liner? And even then, since when is a civilian liner a legitimate target? The ship's propeller is a memorial outside the Maritime Museum if I remember correctly.
Jul. 14th, 2015 08:12 pm (UTC)
Good Reading
Adding my book reviews too:


READY PLAYER ONE was light fun.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN was great! I solved it about half way through; George did you figure it out?

My recommendation: I imagine most everyone here has read it, but WOOL by Hugh Howey is awesome sci-fi
Laura Duque
Jul. 14th, 2015 08:19 pm (UTC)
Interview for mexican magazine
My name is Laura Duque. I'm a reporter and a writer as well. I'm doing an article for a very important magazine here in México. I work for Grupo Expansión (a publishing house). I'd be honored if you allow me to interview you (it can be done by e-mail, skype). I know meeting you is not possible (the distance is enormous). But please, consider me? I really admire your work. You are a great inspiration for me, and a lot of our readers too! Thank you. Have a beautiful day.

Jul. 14th, 2015 09:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Interview for mexican magazine
Thanks, but I am not doing interviews right now.
Paulo Cantarelli
Jul. 14th, 2015 08:33 pm (UTC)
Reading list
I would highly recommend the reading of two classic books from brazilian literature (oh, know that you have many fans here) : "Dom Casmurro" (also translated as Lord Taciturn) and "The posthumous memoirs of Bras Cubas", by Machado de Assis. Both books are very psychological, with a pinch of dry and sophisticated irony. The first one works quite like Shakespeare's Othello, where a husband suspects the wife's faithfulness. The second is about the life of an dead aristocrat, narrated by himself in the afterlife. And another book written by the nobel prize of literature winner, a portuguese called José Saramago, "Blindness". On this novel, the author works with the idea that everyone but one person have been committed by a strange and mysterious blindness. All the world goes rotten while the protagonist witnesses all the events.
All these books are not massive tomes. I promise, it's worth the time.
Jul. 14th, 2015 09:25 pm (UTC)
Hoo boy
Do you finish all the novels you start... even the 'Hoo boy' Hugo stuff?
Jul. 14th, 2015 09:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Hoo boy
No, I don't finish every story I start.

As the saying goes, you don't need to drink the whole quart to know the milk's gone sour.

And sometimes a book may be perfectly good, but just not what I want at that time. In which case I put it aside, but may pick it up again later.

Edited at 2015-07-14 09:33 pm (UTC)
Matt Stedman
Jul. 14th, 2015 09:46 pm (UTC)
Are you a fan of Scalzi's military Sci-fi? I loved Old Man's War and Ghost Brigades. Starship Troopers I couldn't get through. The whole thing about parents raising a generation of hooligans because they stopped whipping them made me feel icky. Me being the product of one of those liberal parents who didn't raise a hand to their children and turning out just fine.
Jul. 15th, 2015 06:00 pm (UTC)
Forgot about those. Yes, I've enjoyed OLD MAN'S WAR and its sequels... but not as much as the classics I mentioned earlier.
Jul. 14th, 2015 09:48 pm (UTC)
How quick can you read a book
How long does it take you to finish reading say a 450-500 page book like Lusitania?
Jul. 14th, 2015 09:59 pm (UTC)
Re: How quick can you read a book
I read most of that one on the plane to Germany, and the rest the day I arrived. So -- one day, more or less.
Re: How quick can you read a book - Rasmus B Wayne - Jul. 15th, 2015 10:34 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 14th, 2015 09:50 pm (UTC)
Right now I am reading Maurice Druon's the Accursed Kings series just finished book 2 the Strangled queen now onto the Poisoned Crown. Great series so far.
James Young
Jul. 14th, 2015 09:54 pm (UTC)
With Fevre Dream being set on the Mississippi River I guess you're quite interested in the culture of the American South? Following on from that do you think you will get round to reading 'Go Set a Watchman'? The reviews have been so polarised and would love to hear what you think about the controversy surrounding the publication.
Jul. 14th, 2015 09:57 pm (UTC)
So glad to hear Dead Wake is good - you're right, The Devil in the White City is a masterpiece. Have you read Thunderstruck? I felt it was a little flat in comparison, though still a fascinating read.
Jul. 14th, 2015 10:00 pm (UTC)
Yes, read THUNDERSTRUCK. That was a good one too.
Thunderstruck - TheMadGiggler - Jul. 14th, 2015 10:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Matt Watkins
Jul. 14th, 2015 09:59 pm (UTC)
The Girl on the Train
I listened to TGotT audiobook a few weeks ago. It's narrated by three different women, which probably helps alleviate the problem of similar narrative voice that you encountered when reading it. The narration is some of the best I've ever heard (and I listen to 1-2 audiobooks per month on Audible). Megan's narrator, in particular is excellent -- she doesn't just read, but acts out the part, with pauses and sighs and voice breaks. I've only read Gone Girl by Flynn, but I thought the writing on TGotT was stronger. Gone Girl was disturbing because it plays unironically straight into male fantasies about manipulative women. The Girl on the Train seems similar at first in that all of its main characters reflect negative female stereotypes: Rachel is irrational, naive, and not super bright, Megan is flighty, emotional, and unstable, and Anna is paranoid and shallow. And all the men appear, from a distance at least, levelheaded and rational and paternally patient. But Hawkins uses these shallow characterizations as a jumping off point; she squirms deep inside the motivations and inner thoughts of the characters to see why they do what they do and how it makes them feel and react. And in the end, though we readers get dramatic insight into the characters, they remain opaque to each other in fundamental ways, ways which probably reflect the reality of human interaction. We only see the surface and project our own preconceptions onto others, creating a sort of imaginary social reality, as if we're fantasizing about the blissful domestic life of a couple we've only seen from the window of a train.
Sean Campanie
Jul. 14th, 2015 10:03 pm (UTC)
2015 World Fantasy Awards Ballot
I imagine your reading list is fairly extensive already, but as you have been commenting on the Hugo award nominated books, I was hoping to hear if you had added any of the World Fantasy Awards Nominees to your lists?
Jul. 14th, 2015 10:06 pm (UTC)
Larson books
Glad to hear that Dead Wake is a good read. I have not had a chance to read it yet. I too think Devil in the White City is my favorite Larson book, but a close second is In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror , an an American Family in Hitler's Berlin. I highly recommend it if you haven't read it yet.
Scott Schaffer
Jul. 14th, 2015 10:07 pm (UTC)
"ARMADA, like READY PLAYER ONE, is a paean to the videogames of a bygone era, and like READY PLAYER ONE it is a tremendous amount of fun for anyone who remembers that time and played those games. (Those who did not may find it incomprehensible, admittedly)."

I remember those times and remember those games, though I was quite young. I wasted many hours as a kid dropping quarters into the machines for said games at the local arcade. That was the era when games were punishingly difficult because they wanted to milk you for as many quarters as they could get, which caused endless frustration at the time but has turned those of us who survived the era into grizzled veterans who treat the constant hand-holding of modern games with derision.

I seem to recall reading at one point (maybe on this blog, I can't remember) that you stopped playing video games many years ago, not because you didn't like them, but because you liked some of them too much and they became devourers of what could have been productive time.

It's unfortunate. Mostly you haven't missed much, very little that would be contending for Hugos if they were made in the appropriate medium, but there are the occasional stand-outs like Planescape: Torment and Shadow of the Colossus that I wish I could get every Sci-Fi/Fantasy nerd to sit down and play at least once. The former, especially, is one of the best fantasy novels of 1999 that just happened to be in the form of a game.

Anyway, I'll give ARMADA and READY PLAYER ONE a look.

Edited at 2015-07-14 10:11 pm (UTC)
Jason Kenney
Jul. 15th, 2015 08:28 pm (UTC)
Is it like Lucky Wander Boy?
I recall a book called Lucky Wander Boy that came out around c. 2002 I think? It seemed based on 70's arcade games.

How does Ready Player One compare to something like .//Hack, Accel World, or Sword Art Online?

(I would recommend the first season only of SAO, its very clever in how it portrays what happens if people die for real in an MMO).

I wouldn't recommend Torment to anyone who isn't a gamer, its like asking someone to read Dune unprepared. If you want to get someone into narrative video games, I would recommend The Last of Us, its much more forgiving and still has a great story. Torment doesn't stop you from throwing away important items, or killing NPC's needed to advance the plot.
Re: Is it like Lucky Wander Boy? - Scott Schaffer - Jul. 21st, 2015 03:45 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 14th, 2015 10:14 pm (UTC)
Hey George,
I'm so sad that I, as a huge german fan, missed you in Hamburg, but studying is very busy right know and I life too far south to just drop by...

But anyway: What did you think of Hamburg, ever been there before? In a previous post you mentioned a few Sightseeing Highlights, but what is your opinion about the city in general? Here in Germany we have a huge discussion about modern architecture, lifestyle and gentrification in our big cities, which are often seen critical. Do you have any thoughts about that topic, maybe in comparison to the USA?

Keep on going like you do and thank you for all your books and other works, they really enrich my life!
Jul. 14th, 2015 10:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Hamburg
I did not see a lot of Hamburg. I liked the tourist sights -- the old warehouse district, the canals, the miniature museum, the tunnel -- but the modern city, from what I saw, was... well, a modern city.

I must say, I did think Stockholm was much more beautiful. This, I suspect, is a result of Sweden staying out of both world wars, and thereby avoiding having all their beautiful old buildings bombed into rubble. Peace has many benefits.
Re: Hamburg - dunkeon - Jul. 14th, 2015 11:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hamburg - aulus_poliutos - Jul. 15th, 2015 03:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hamburg - MatthiasSchipp - Jul. 15th, 2015 10:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 14th, 2015 10:26 pm (UTC)
Do you listen to audiobooks? There's something about the spoken word that makes the same book seem different in this form. Weird...
Jul. 14th, 2015 11:33 pm (UTC)
Any recommendations
I remember that you once recommended Bernard Cornwell's Warlord series. I read them and enjoyed the series immensely. What is your general opinion on Arthurian fiction and do you have any more recommendations?
Jul. 14th, 2015 11:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Any recommendations
I love classic Arthurian fiction... but its been done so often and so well that I think today's authors would do well to leave it be. Write about Roland or the Cid instead, they have not been done to death yet.

T.H. White's ONCE AND FUTURE KING is the all time champ, I think. Rosemary Sutcliffe's version was great as well.
Re: Arthurian - apostle_of_eris - Jul. 15th, 2015 02:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Any recommendations - aulus_poliutos - Jul. 15th, 2015 03:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 15th, 2015 12:03 am (UTC)
The Devil in the White City is AMAZING!!! I had to keep reminding myself that it was non-fiction because it read just like a novel. What a page-turner! I think it would make an amazing TV series too! :)
Jul. 15th, 2015 12:13 am (UTC)
Military SF
George have you heard of the World War 2.1 trilogy from John Birmingham?
It has stronger ties to alternative history than SF, but I thought it was fantastic.
Basically a modern day fleet is transported back to a task force en route to the battle of Midway and history is rewritten in interesting ways from that point.
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George R.R. Martin
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