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Jacquerel
 Eagle Time Reading List
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Ok so I know we've got the book club thread already, but I am tired of relying on my Kindle's shitty "we think you'd like this" algorithm and I know a lot of people who have read some books in their time, so I wanted to make a thread that's less about reading a book communally and more about just telling people you read a cool book.

Tell me what good books you have read so I can also read them. I have been contented too long on books that are merely "sort of ok I guess", I can do better for myself.

I guess I'd better start, so here's what I've read in the last month or three that's worth passing on to someone else (it's fairly heavily slanted towards sci-fi/fantasy);



Ancillary Trilogy (Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy) by Ann Leckie.
This is technically three books and the third is the only one I read recently. It's also probably some of the best sci-fi I have read in a good while (I may even read them over again from the top, as it's been some time since reading the first). I know for a fact that some of you have also already read these books and may be able to provide a more eloquent recommendation than I did.
But that said, this book has an interesting perspective character and an interesting setting and interesting themes.

The main conceit is that the main character is essentially a very large space ship (or more accurately the intelligence controlling a very large space ship) who also has the capacity to use modified human bodies as "Ancillaries", essentially a bunch of convenient sets of limbs that can do tasks a very large space ship cannot, such as cleaning and maintenance.
Very quickly she finds herself in reduced circumstances as the ship itself is destroyed and her intelligence remains solely located in a single one of these bodies. Her adaption to this new role as a member of her creator society rather than as a tool and struggle to revenge herself on the source of her mostly-death forms the plot of the first book, with the more far-reaching implications of her existence on that society following up in the second two.
This series tackles a lot of fairly weightly themes like imperialism, slavery, disability, family and the old sci-fi chestnuts of free will and created intelligence in what I think is a pretty respectful manner.
Also the society that most of the book revolves around only uses the feminine pronoun for literally every citizen and member and doesn't really recognise gender much at all. I don't know exactly what you might think of that detail but I found it pretty interesting.

The series (more in the second two than the first) also does something I appreciate which doesn't happen enough in sci-fi in that there is an alien race involved in the plot, but they are so alien in their perspectives and thought-processes that they are never actually directly involved or portrayed, their influence coming about purely through modified human "translators" (who themselves are still fairly incomprehensible, giving a window into the idea of creatures whose brains simply operate on an entirely different level to ours and create an almost impassable communication barrier). It's really cool.



The Bees by Laline Paull is a book that I picked up because it's called "The Bees" and because it is chiefly about bees. Almost solely about bees, actually. Sapient bees.

I didn't expect a book where most of the characters are bees to be particularly touching, but it is. This book contains a lot of Bee Facts but it's a chiefly fantastical view of how bees work, that's fine though because it models a better sapient insect societal ecosystem than most fiction manages to create.

The perspective character in this book is (obviously) a bee, and she is adorable and will make you root for her throughout the narrative, which largely does not go in her favour. One of the biggest themes in this book is loyalty and labour committed towards a power structure that neither loves you in return nor particularly cares what happens to you, and our character struggling to find her place inside it as someone who doesn't really fit into any of the categories it tries to use her for.

The one demerit is that there are not really very many bee puns in this book.



The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is like, probably the least best book I am recommending but it's still nice.
It's essentially about the crew of a small interstellar vessel which is taking an unusually long trip in order to facilitate making a wormhole so nobody else has to take such a long trip (you need a ship on both ends), and how they deal with their interpersonal problems.

There's no real world-threatening threats or political intrigue in this story and it sort of reads in an episodic manner, giving each character their handful of chapters in turn to have their story and character resolution before tying them all up in a conclusion that effects the found family ship unit as a whole.
There's still parts where people are under threat, but compared to other things I have listed I would describe it as a nice sort of pleasant book that isn't terribly heavy. I enjoyed it.

Also (minor spoilers) the main character (or, first you are introduced to) ends up dating an alien lizard at some point which I wasn't expecting but think bears mentioning as a recommendation.



Final recommendation: The Just City by Jo Walton is the book I am actually currently still reading, so it's possible the ending may ruin it for me in some manner or present some unpalatable moral judgement, but so far I think it's a book several people here would enjoy.
It's also the most esoteric title on this list. The concept is weird and I was not completely sold on it at first (ok I guess I was because I bought the book) but it won me over after a couple of chapters.

So. The basic plot of this book is that the goddess Athene has gathered 300 people from across time who were big fans of the works of Plato, who have for some reason or another prayed to her (or someone similar to her) to be allowed to live in the ideal society described in Plato's "Republic", as an experiment, giving them a plot of land in ancient Greece (which will be destroyed by a volcano in a few generations leaving no trace) and some worker robots with which to do manual labour, to attempt to bring their idealised society into reality.

The main characters are Maia, one of the 300 scholars, philosophers, or readers who become the founders of the city (herself simply a girl who loved reading the works of Plato, but who lived in a misogynistic society that did not give her any hope of opportunity to her indulge her intellect), Simmea, one of the thousands of "freed" children they bring in from greek slave markets to mould into their ideal citizens, and the god Apollo, who has incarnated himself in human form as another child test subject in order to himself learn more about free will and freedom of choice in mortals.
Later, Socrates himself shows up and the children begin to question whether what is being done is correct or justified, and the shaky foundations of this "ideal" society start to wobble.

Please don't let the time travel/greek gods aspects put you off, they're present mostly as set dressing to make the conceit work but not really like... important?
This book is mostly about philosophy and free will but without requiring you to have actually read any philosophy to understand it? All of the concepts it covers are explained by or to characters in the book as natural parts of the plot, and it covers a lot of concepts (slavery, family, deception, relationships, and societal responsibility to name a few) as well as, mysteriously (making 3/4 titles on this list) the role of created intelligence.

I can't yet tell you if its eventual conclusion about human nature and how it interferes with well-intentioned poorly-executed plans for a better future is one I would agree with, but so far it's a book I was unsure about but it actually very well executed.



So that's enough about me, I'm quickly reaching the end of The Just City and while I have a couple of other books lined up, I would also like some that are recommended by people whose taste I trust more than that of a "other people who read this also read this" aggregation. Please rescue me from all the terrible guns & gadgets novels Kindle really wants me to read.
(This post was last modified: 11-07-2015, 05:45 PM by Jacquerel.)
11-07-2015, 05:44 PM
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Schazer
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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Ok so I read an actual book for the first time in months and it was Snow Crash. It's been a while since I managed to sit down for five+ hours and just, devour a book, I'm not even sure if this is an objectively good book but WHATEVS MOTHERFOLKERS I'M STUCK AT MY DESK WITH A WRITING ITCH AND NO BATTLE IDEAS SO I'M GONNA HEREBY BLATHER

So the setting: is the kind of beautiful fuckery we could've lingered upon for sessions and sessions in the QDB campaign if it were a worldbuilding jam instead of a tabletop campaign where we got shit done. The United States ceded most of North America to corporations, whose territories are functionally countries what with visas and their own laws and border enforcement and whatever else the heck. The US still exists, but as this tiny grey bureaucratic tangle quietly-fitfully extricating its way up its own orifices. It's so utterly detached from Reality the few chapters set in it feel like a complete non-sequitr, or like the author got sick of writing about the neo-neongrime cybershitpunk corporate dystopia and tried some Straight Paranoia on for kicks instead.

The physical setting is super-great, and shown off to great effect in the opening chapters as the Deliverator tears up the streets in his Douchemobile on a life-or-death mission to deliver a pizza for the Mafia. Yeah, the Mafia is also a corporation. Pizza delivery is but one branch of their extensive business portfolio. Anyway, the Deliverator probably thinks he's a fucking badass as he's doing this, because he's the kind of loser who answers to Hiro Protagonist and unironically wields dual Japanese swords. He's the protagonist, obviously, and I despise him even though this whole book is a pisstake of cyberpunk.

Anyway, he fucks up his pizza delivery and we meet Y.T, peppy action girl + capital-k Kourier, who bails his ass out (and the Mafia's.) There's a bunch of stuff that waves vaguely toward her as the protagonist but idk. Hiro and Y.T aren't overwhelmingly unlikeable but they're pretty boring compared to other characters. Ng is top-tier. Juanita needed more screentime instead of just being Hiro's unattainable object of affection. The Librarian is by design a very two-dimensional character, but plays within those boundaries well and makes the whole plot's unfolding somewhat entertaining. Uncle Enzo is Extremely Important.

The ideas and setting behind this book are pretty great, which is a shame because there's, like... very little emotional investment between characters, other than everyone acting various degrees of paternal toward Y.T. God. This book made me miss QDB, right down to the sense of "a bunch of assholes working to save the world because they all kind of got roped into it, this is fine I guess." Human connections definitely took a backseat in this. Maybe that's a commentary or something?????

The central plot kind of gets the same treatment from the characters of "welp this is sure happening." I may have been soured on it though because of how narratively horrendous the unveiling of the villain's grand plan was. I'm typically awful at joining narrative dots, and even I saw the climaxes coming a mile off (in part because of the narrative framing of scenes with the Librarian).

---

tl;dr this was a goofy romp through a good aesthetic and I guess a plot happened somewhere? I would happily lend my hard copy out to folks if they want to check it out. There are a couple problematic elements that I can PM folks for sensibilities' sakes if they're still interested in reading. I'd especially recommend it to the QDB crew but will happily lend it out to anyone who's looking for a digestible 600-page read with an ending worth complaining about.
11-17-2015, 06:33 AM
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wooiljung
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
#3
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The Song of Ice and Fire series is too mainstream and disappointing(as it never comes out), so I'm introducing another very famous series that was really fun for me.
Enter..... the Ender's Game series!

The setting: alien species have invaded the Earth, but was repelled miraculously by a brilliant tactician, who is known to have died in a resultant crash after killing the bugs' invading queen. A space station has been established to train genius minds of Earth, in order to prepare against an upcoming invasion that's expected to be imminent. The training is done primarily by a series of simulated battles in which one child commands a battalion of others. Enter the main protagonist..... Ender, whose genius is unheard of, who quickly adapts to any form of a game in seconds and leaves his mark as THE best kid in school.... literally.

What I like about the plot is that while it's the good ole' humanity-defends-against-aliens kind of book, the way it's told is amazing, and the subsequent plot twist that comes at the end. There's this something about the author and the way he writes, that draws in the reader. Like a good book should.

There are sequels, I found. Too many. The plot branches off into the perspective of Ender, another kid, and yet another kid in the school (3 series!), each branch consisting of about 5 books. It's a long read, but I quite enjoyed it.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Another book I'd recommend is 'Heaven's Devils'. It's a story of 'Jim Raynor', a young man living in a planet under the protection of the Confederacy. These nations are the products of a colonization program from Earth, in which a fanatical group that took hold of the entire Earth's power shipped off tens of thousands of criminals and cybernetic part users into four huge battlecruisers, headed into a planet deemed as suitable for life for colonization. But the supercomputer maintaining the flight malfunctioned, sending the inhabitants into a decades old trip into a system 60 light years away, known as the Kopfu-Rulu sector. One of the battlecruisers perished during landing, while each of the other three landed on separate planets. The one with the supercomputer Atlas progressed the fastest, forming the Confederacy and becoming a superpower in the space sector. It expanded quickly, forming hundreds of colony worlds in imminent planets, which, after some decades, secedes away from the Confederacy to form the Kel-Morian Combine, a faction formed by miners and companies of resource-rich planets that wants to take control of the minerals by itself (eliminating huge taxes toward the Confederacy). The Confederacy, in order to defend their worlds against the threats, orders a recruitment on the largest scale ever seen, which our protagonist James Raynor gets dragged into, unwitting.

That's the setting, and the plot revolves around the main character James Raynor, who is recruited into the space marines program in order to battle the Kel-Morian Combine, but uncovers the nasty corruption behind the brains of the Confederacy, while making his place in a battalion that becomes legendary, known as the "Heaven's Devils". That's kinda the main plot, there are a lot of twists and flavors in the actual story, which I'd hate to spoil for anyone actually wanting to read the novel.

DISCLAIMER: the novel itself is the officially recognized and licensed book of a game called Starcraft, and is probably more enjoyable to die-hard fans (or nolife fans like me) of the game. Still, it's quite enjoyable in its own right, as it doesn't actually make references toward the game or any of the other settings.

No matter what happens today, you can laugh about it tomorrow
11-21-2015, 04:36 PM
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Palamedes
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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So it's sci fi, eh?

Don't have a lot of time right now and haven't had a chance to read any decent ones over the past few months, but I really enjoyed Ready Player One way back when I read it.

The basic setup is we've got a dystopian cyberpunk world that you almost never hear about because some reclusive neurotic genius built a (free) virtual reality MMORPG. Said RNG died shortly after getting it all up and running, but designed a series of quests to gain ownership of his creation based on the 80's retro gaming he loved as a kid. Years later and nobody's figured out anything about the first quest, the clue being too vague and the online world being too ludicrously massive.

Enter our hero, who after a surprisingly solid introduction and a later chapter that was designed to make him look cool and experienced but instead makes him come off like an asshole, is dicking around and building his decent characterization back up after that mistake accidentally becomes the first guy to find (and solve) the first puzzle. Of course he can't keep his trap shut (also a scoreboard pops up with only his name on it) so a race begins between people like him (free internet good guys) and some megacorp (privatization bad guys) to finish the remaining quests and get to the end.

It's not the perfect novel. Morality is extremely black and white, and there aren't any major surprises. The end's a little anticlimactic. All of that said, the characters are mostly solid (outside of that shit chapter I mentioned) and it's extremely good natured and fun. It was also an incredible breath of fresh air from the oppressive tide of (admittingly good) dark and/or edgy sci-fi that I had gotten into at the time.

~~~~~~~~

A similar novel, in the vein of games nostalgia, is Bedlam.

Dude McHeroguy gets trapped in a shitty old videogame, and has to figure out a way back into real life. Conceptually it's a little more solid than Ready Player One, as instead of an 'anything goes' virtual world everything is based on real (and one or two imaginary) videogames. It's also not quite as straightforward, and has quite a few clever bits. That said, it's not the one I'd recommend if you'd only read one of these. Though I didn't catch it until about halfway through, the novel has less of a celebratory attitude towards nostalgia as it does a douchy 'only pre-95 games are any good' one. I found the end to be a total bust as well, possibly one of the worst ones I've seen in a long time, and it's harder to ignore the flaws.

tl;dr: Ready Player One is good if you're into lighter fiction, would just like a change from more serious stuff, or enjoy goofy stories about video games. Bedlam is also a good read as long as you can deal with the slightly stuck-up narration and the end.

I have others (sci-fi and otherwise) but no time or ability to properly do a summary. Give me a shoutout if you want to talk about these or other books though, this is really nice for someone like me who wants to get back into reading after a couple of months of time/commitment issues. Except for you Schazer, since I already read Snow Crash and your summary more or less mirrors what I got out of it (way more fun by the way if you just had to read cyberpunk that came before it for those who are interested and also hate themselves).
(This post was last modified: 11-22-2015, 06:05 AM by Palamedes.)
11-22-2015, 06:04 AM
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Schazer
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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Oh man! Thing I forgot to mention about Snow Crash: It wasn't until about two fifths or so of the way in that I learned this book was written in '92. That more than anything else left me confused as to whether this was loving mockery of sci-fi instead of an earnestly-done scifi that hit the nail on some of its future-predictions.

Alternate title of my Snow Crash book review: I Can't Believe Someone Who Predicted Google Earth and Second Life Can't Finish A Story In A Satisfactory Fashion
11-22-2015, 06:56 AM
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☆ C.H.W.O.K.A ☆
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
#6
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I'm 538 pages (about halfway) through Nixonland by Rick Perlstein right now. It's not fantasy or sci-fi or even fiction, but it IS a fascinating portrait of both a divided, confused period of American history, and the title character, who is probably the most fascinating person in American history and well, well worth devoting a book to. If you're a bit of a political junkie like me, if you've ever wondered what a Chappaquiddick is, if you want to know why the Vietnam war dragged on like it did well past when it became obvious it was a horrible mistake, if you want to read about what is, practically speaking, the start point of relevant American history, I highly recommend it.
11-22-2015, 10:44 AM
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Papers
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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Let me just say I really enjoyed Speaker for the Dead but a good chunk of the Internet thinks it's stupid because Arin Hanson described it in a bad way.

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11-22-2015, 06:35 PM
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Jacquerel
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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Most of the criticism I've heard of Orson Scott Card was for his homophobia, whether that appeared in his work or not, or less frequently the idea that the series is just a sequence of obstacles set up in front of a protagonist who is close to perfect at the start of the series and defeats all of them without much exertion or significant change, their existence merely demonstrating that he already had the skills required and that people were underestimating him.

Please don't feel you're limited to sci-fi or even fiction, that's just what I happened to have been reading lately. I've read some more books lately but I'm not 100% sure they were good enough to recommend (to be honest I'm not sure if everything I listed above was either), will think about them some more probably.
The one I am currently reading will probably make the cut (although the romantic subplot is creepy) but I'm only 2/3rds of the way through.
(This post was last modified: 11-22-2015, 06:48 PM by Jacquerel.)
11-22-2015, 06:38 PM
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Papers
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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I agree there, Ender was the least interesting character in Speaker for the Dead

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11-22-2015, 06:46 PM
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ThePassenger
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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A lot of the criticism I've heard of the Ender series is that it goes completely off the rails near the end of Xenocide and basically gives the protagonists godlike powers.

Also, while reading his Christopher Columbus time travel book, I was going, "All right, Card, we get it, all your characters are geniuses." His writing style always keeps me reading though.
11-22-2015, 07:22 PM
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☆ C.H.W.O.K.A ☆
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
#11
i'm rad as hell, and i'm not gonna take it anymore

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Honestly, every time I hear about Ender's Game the only thing I can think of is Creating the Innocent Killer.
11-22-2015, 08:13 PM
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Palamedes
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
#12
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(11-22-2015, 06:56 AM)Schazer Wrote: loving mockery of sci-fi

It was 100% this (as opposed to the other option, anyways). Stephenson absolutely took the piss out of a lot of terrible, terrible tropes that took deep root in a lot of science fiction (primarily cyberpunk) post Neuromancer, such as ridiculously perfect protagonists and trying to make everything overly gritty and dangerous - hence how we get Hiro Protagonist the katana wielding pizza delivery boy. Seriously, I don't think I've read more than a couple of novels that came out between the two that didn't fit into the same mold.

I always took the lackluster ending as being part of what was happening in cyberpunk as well - the vast majority of them end terribly especially considering the often neat things they'd set up throughout.

Oh, and supposedly one of the creators of Google Earth said they were inspired by Snow Crash, so there's that.

As for Ender's Game I thought the writing was really solid and the world interesting as hell, but couldn't ever get past how the main character invents the best religion ever and apparently becomes some sort of god king. Oh right and how he kicks some other kid in the crotch so hard it kills him (I might be remembering this part incorrectly). I mean the situations and everything were neat and the twist was solid, but I would have preferred to see a properly balanced character go through them (even if they were still generally amazing).

I always though the book and probably entire series would have been better if his still-flawed-and-thus-interesting siblings were the ones taking centre stage, though at least near the end of the novel Card sort of dealt with Ender's blatant perfection.
(This post was last modified: 11-22-2015, 11:52 PM by Palamedes.)
11-22-2015, 11:43 PM
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Schazer
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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Ok cool! I'm reading/hearing about the book twelve years after it was published so I wasn't aware of the context/culture/timeframe it was published in originally. Thanks, Pala.
11-23-2015, 01:12 AM
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AgentBlue
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
#14
that escalated quickly

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Stephenson is

really bad at writing endings
11-23-2015, 02:40 AM
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Palamedes
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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That is

Also true.
11-24-2015, 12:37 AM
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AgentBlue
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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that escalated quickly

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I mean, out of all his books, I'd say that only really Zodiac has a decent 'conclusion-y' ending.

By the way, I'm re-reading Zodiac. It's very Stephenson: a gritty direct-action ecoprotagonist trying to uncover a conspiracy, asides about chemical pollution and boat hydrodynamics every so often, set in Boston... but I happen to like Stephenson's writing, so I guess I'm once again super biased.

I think one of the big things about Stephenson is that apart from anything else, he really does his research. Sometimes excessively so, which is why you get asides about mining engineering in Cryptonomicon and the proper technique to magnet-harpoon-landsurf in Snow Crash.

One of his really, really big themes in all of his books is the 'emergent order in chaos' concept, which he goes on and on about in at least three different books. You know, the whole 'there are archetypes that repeat through history and we used to worship them as gods but now they are part of the cultural zeitgeist, like how hackers are the new Loki/Coyote/Artemis, societas eruditorum est' thing.

The only one where there isn't really a hint of it is Reamde, but that book is a fucking mess. Word of God is that Reamde was actually chunked together from two different books he was writing, because the publishers needed a new one to shit out. If that's true, I think he shouldn't have done it. Both the MMORPG part and the terrorism part had real potential as separate books, and instead we got a book that started out as an interesting look into MMORPGs and ended up with a hundred-page gunfight/chase scene. Which honestly says a lot about him.

I haven't read his latest novel yet, so it's a toss up in between whether it'll be a cool sci-fi Stephenson thriller or a shit modern-day okay here's ten pages of weapon specifications for the gun this guy's about to shoot Stephenson 'thriller'. More on this as it follows.

Also: I'm discounting Cobweb for the purposes of this argument, I want to keep the sample size to Stephenson-authored books only.

Also: Also: the Diamond Age suffers from the same weaknesses I've talked about here but is worth a read anyway.
11-24-2015, 01:40 AM
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AgentBlue
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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that escalated quickly

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Other common themes in Stephenson: male protagonist has romantic troubles because he is guarded and emotionally unavailable, guns, jamming guns by putting fingers in them, car accidents, ship thievery
11-30-2015, 06:27 AM
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Papers
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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Why the fuck would you jam a gun with your finger?

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11-30-2015, 06:28 AM
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Schazer
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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if your immediate unarmed options to jam the gun with a <100% success rate were:

tongue
earlobe
nose
finger
dick

a finger suddenly seems like a highly practical option.
11-30-2015, 06:35 AM
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Plaid
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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super gay

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Desperate times, desperate measures etc etc

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11-30-2015, 07:26 AM
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Papers
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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As opposed to smacking the gun or running away?

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11-30-2015, 08:33 AM
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SleepingOrange
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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You're doing a really poor job of selling this dude, Agen. Everything you've said has made his writing sound like barf garbage.
11-30-2015, 08:39 AM
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AgentBlue
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
#23
that escalated quickly

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His actual writing is actually really good, he's just not good at putting together stories and he ends up relying on stuff he's done before. For example, there is both an instance of ship thievery in Zodiac and Reamde, but both of those situations had very different circumstances (in one case it was to prevent a chemical company from exploding its own ship to hide evidence, the other it was because terrorists). But he has a pretty good way with words.
11-30-2015, 10:29 AM
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SleepingOrange
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
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I more meant "his writings" than I meant "his writing". Someone can be an amazing writer and still a shitty author and that's the impression I'm getting here just based on your descriptions. I haven't read anything of his, obviously, so I don't know; I just thought it was funny that the way you were sharing something you liked gave mesuch a negative impression.
11-30-2015, 02:29 PM
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AgentBlue
 RE: Eagle Time Reading List
#25
that escalated quickly

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Joined: Jul 2011
Sunshine, Lollipops and Diabetes
I guess I like him despite these flaws because his books were so influential. Snow Crash was one of those books where concepts from it keep popping up in the most unexpected places, and it's definitely worth a read just for that.
12-01-2015, 01:46 PM
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