What did you just read?

Randin

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The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Bernard DeVoto. An abridged version of the journals kept by Lewis and Clark on their expedition to the Pacific. Not much to say about it that the book's title doesn't say for itself; if you have any interest in the history of the American frontier, this is very much worth picking up.
 

Captain Suave

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Just read Gideon the Ninth. Wonderful book, one of the most fun and original novels I've read in years.
Finished Gideon & Harrow the Ninth. Love the first, significantly more tepid on the second. The lore is spectacular but the best parts of the first book were not really present in the sequel. I dislike second-person prose and stories where the reader knows more than the characters. Harrow is the fucking GOAT setup for a dad joke, though.
 
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sakkath

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Finished Gideon & Harrow the Ninth. Love the first, significantly more tepid on the second. The lore is spectacular but the best parts of the first book were not really present in the sequel. I dislike second-person prose and stories where the reader knows more than the characters. Harrow is the fucking GOAT setup for a dad joke, though.
I found the second a lot harder to get in to because Gideon is a much more entertaining narrator than Harrow. Also I found Harrow confusing as fuck for the first 4 chapters or so, until I realised what the different perspectives were all about. Having said that even the second book was fantastic and I am keenly awaiting the 3rd book whenever it eventually comes out. As you said, spectacular lore, and there are still so many unanswered questions at the end of the 2nd book that it's hard to wait for the conclusion.
 
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velk

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My main takeway from Harrow the Ninth is that while Harrow may have appeared a bit unbalanced from Gideon's point of view, it was all an illusion and she was in fact utterly bugshit crazy.
;)
 

velk

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Project Hail Mary Andy Weir - Hmm, it's a bit hard to talk about what this book is about without major spoilers. It starts with a scientist with memory damage being awoken from a coma by a medical robot of some kind, and finding himself in a room with two corpses. He tries to find out what is going and gradually remembers stuff.

I thought the Martian was great, but Artemis was kind of disappointing - this one was a return to form, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits David Wong - I actually started reading this one because of the name of it's sequel ( Zoey Ashe Punches the Future in the Dick ), but realized it was from the same guy as 'John Dies at the End' which I liked, so double bonus. It's about a trailer park girl whose absent father's 'business associates' offer to pay her $10k to unlock his vault, which is, for some reason, keyed to her.

It's nowhere near as insane as John Dies, but still pretty wacky - it's a near future setting with mad-scientist tech more or less. Good fun.

Junkyard Cats Faith Hunter - Semi-post apocalyptic setting ( USA partially collapsed after war with China fucked up a lot of land ), ex-militia woman in hiding running a junkyard runs into trouble when her new delivery has the corpse of one of her suppliers in the trunk instead of the expected black market engine. As expected of the author of the Jane Yellowrock series, this is tightly plotted and well characterized with great action. It was also some entertaining world building. I felt a bit cheated it was so short though, but that won't stop me reading sequels.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars Christopher Paolini - Exo-biologist finding an unknown alien artifact has a momentary lapse in professionalism that costs her dearly. It's actually pretty amazing how badly she fucks everything up, although the full extent isn't obvious until much later in the book. This was the Goodreads 2020 winner for SF category, and I'd say it's a pretty deserved win, great book overall.

The Space Between Worlds Micaiah Johnson - A method of traveling to parallel dimensions is discovered, but proves fatal to people who have an alternate version of themselves alive in that dimension. This leads to a sudden need for otherwise overlooked people with low life expectancy. The story follows an ex-street kid, ex-gang member who is dead in more than 300 of the known alternate realities and is corresponding valuable as a courier. This was.. ok I guess ? I was sort of amused at her 'secret' - I didn't believe for a moment that she could get away with it, so finding out that almost everyone knew that anyway was pretty funny.

I didn't buy that a company with a monopoly lock on transdimensional travel and what was effectively time travel ( some of the alternates are more progressed ) that was constantly importing resources from other realities, as well as the various other shenanigans they were getting up to, would have money troubles. This seemed like a ludicrous plot point.
 
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Zyke

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Project Hail Mary Andy Weir - Hmm, it's a bit hard to talk about what this book is about without major spoilers. It starts with a scientist with memory damage being awoken from a coma by a medical robot of some kind, and finding himself in a room with two corpses. He tries to find out what is going and gradually remembers stuff.



To Sleep in a Sea of Stars Christopher Paolini - Exo-biologist finding an unknown alien artifact has a momentary lapse in professionalism that costs her dearly. It's actually pretty amazing how badly she fucks everything up, although the full extent isn't obvious until much later in the book. This was the Goodreads 2020 winner for SF category, and I'd say it's a pretty deserved win, great book overall.

I just read both of these as well and really enjoyed them. Project Hail Mary especially I absolutely loved, and may actually have liked even more than The Martian, which I also thought was phenomenal.
 
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Campbell1oo4

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The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structure of Alchemy by Mircea Eliade

An interesting book. For the first half I really didn't understand what the point was. Perhaps I missed it, but I didn't understand why Eliade wrote this until I got to the last chapter.
But by that time, I understood what he was saying.

Before the agricultural revolution, humanity organized itself in pastoralist tribes, and had beliefs that reflected that lifestyle. One of those beliefs, Eliade points out, was that smiths and metals were not venerated. That changed with the agricultural revolution. The entire spiritual landscape of humanity was transformed. All of a sudden iron and metal had a sacred quality, and the men who could transform it into various shapes became something akin to sorcerers. In some cultures they were considered more powerful than shamans. The smith made the iron shirt, after all, that protected the shaman from evil spirits. Smiths are commonly linked with royalty. There are some sources that claim Genghis Khan was a smith, before his rise to power.

Ancients also saw male and female types of ores and rationalized the smelting process as a marriage between two types of ores in order to make something stronger, which is essentially what marriage does for human beings.

About halfway through this text I figured out what Eliade was trying to say. He starts off with the mystical importance of iron, but then he moved on to Alchemy, and how it was never a scientific process. It was a spiritual process. Jung writes about this in more detail.

The point is that creating things is divine. Changing nature is the realm of the gods. By changing ore into metal, or children into adults, you are doing the work of the gods. It makes you divine.
Towards the end of the text, Eliade makes a very interesting point. Just as the agricultural revolution wiped out the spiritual beliefs of the nomads, the industrial revolution wiped out the spiritual beliefs of our near ancestors. We have not yet seen the results of this revolution as it will take hundreds of years to fully come about, but it is happening all around us.

It gives you hope. In some way, the Christian message will be rebuilt. It will probably not have the same images or messages, but it will be there and it will help human beings to become happy and create order long into the future. We are simply living in a great transition period, so large we don’t even know we are standing in it.
 
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Hateyou

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I just read both of these as well and really enjoyed them. Project Hail Mary especially I absolutely loved, and may actually have liked even more than The Martian, which I also thought was phenomenal.

Project Hail Mary Andy Weir - Hmm, it's a bit hard to talk about what this book is about without major spoilers. It starts with a scientist with memory damage being awoken from a coma by a medical robot of some kind, and finding himself in a room with two corpses. He tries to find out what is going and gradually remembers stuff.

Just finished Project Hail Mary. Really enjoyable. The main character was too smart for what he was but he had enough fuck ups to offset it so I didn’t care. I only dislike overdone characters when they never fuck up and everything they do is amazing. Great ending. I’ll check out the sea of stars book too.
 

chaos

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I wanted to read Project Hail mary but started the first Malazan book instead and feel like I just started studying for a test.
 
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Randin

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I wanted to read Project Hail mary but started the first Malazan book instead and feel like I just started studying for a test.
Yeah that's normal.

Malazan's one of those series where you want to read the books in relatively quick succession if you want to have any serious chance of holding it all straight in your head. A lot of intertwining storylines, and a shit-ton of characters to keep straight.

Anyways, going to what I've been reading:

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab, sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic (weirdly enough, the series as a whole doesn't seem to have a title). A fantasy series based around multiple parallel realities that contain varying levels of magic, and a character that travels between them. With the first book in the series, I thought the setting was interesting, the story itself didn't do as much with it as I would've liked (although the story wasn't bad). The second book does more to flesh out the setting, although it does so by focusing mostly on one world, which feels like an odd choice. Even so, I enjoyed the book, and I think I'll be sticking with this series to the end.
 

slippery

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If you still haven't read any of the Expeditionary Force Series (book 1 is Columbus Day) you are really missing out.
 

Zyke

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I wanted to read Project Hail mary but started the first Malazan book instead and feel like I just started studying for a test.
God speed on this journey. As Randin said, definitely read them back to back. I read them when they were still coming out and it's a serious struggle to come back to reading a new one if you haven't read the previous ones recently, because they're so incredibly dense. Some of the most epic moments in fantasy I've ever read though is in that series.

If you still haven't read any of the Expeditionary Force Series (book 1 is Columbus Day) you are really missing out.
Yeah these are surprisingly good. My only complaint is they can feel incredibly formulaic, especially in the early-mid books, but some of the more recent ones (thankfully) broke the mold a bit and I've really enjoyed them.
 

Campbell1oo4

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The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World System 1830 to 1970 by John Darwin.

Just what it says on the tin; a comprehensive overview of the British Empire, in its various forms. I was surprised, early on, to learn that the British Empire was not a Top Down creation spurred on by a central authority bent on conquest, but more of a Bottom Up enterprise spurred on by motivated individuals.

Yet the most interesting thing that I found in this text is how it relates to modern day dynamics.
For example, very interesting that as food production ramped up in North America, most of the food production in Great Britain disappeared. Free trade killed those jobs, and what they got in return was greater prosperity (and creature comforts). Reminds me of America in the late 20th and early 21st century, and how a lot of our low-skill manufacturing jobs got exported to India and China.

There is of course a positive side to this; if less of your population is focused on food or manufacturing, they can focus on something else. Such as administration, warfare or technological research. Another interesting point concerning land; In the past the British bought up a bunch of land in Egypt and because of these assets, had total economic control of the country. Reminded me strongly of the Chinese buying up land here in America. The colonial practices of the past give good reason for nationalistic arguments in the present.

Despite having studied the First World War quite extensively in school, this book gives a real good overview of the effects and costs of the war. Darwin writes that the war was essential a conflict between British businessmen, who had control over the world, and German militants who wanted a piece of pie. But the First World War was not the devastating conflict (at least in economic terms) that killed the Empire. It definitely still existed in the 20s and the 30s, and could have made a comeback if not the Second World War. It was this conflict which really killed the Empire, and the following decades were just the slow death and replacement by the USA.

Last thing that I found interesting come about in this time period, after the Second World War. The British still had assets spread across the globe, including oil refineries in Iran. Things got real interesting when the Iranians seized the oil production (a natural resource in their own land) from a foreign ‘owner.’ British then had two choices. They could send in military forces to re-secure their assets or back down. They backed down and the Iranians took control of their oil. Why was this so interesting? Well it harkened back to, in my opinion, the section of the book in which the British bought up all those properties in Egypt. The natives can resist a foreign investor/invader, if the foreigners aren’t willing to back up their claim.

But what about when the foreigners are willing to back up their claim, such as the British and the Suez Canal? The British were willing to deploy troops to beat down the Egyptians, but the Egyptians did not go lightly. They had been banded together under the idea of a nation, and were not separated by tribes as they were when the British first invaded. In order to throw off a foreign invader/investor, the native people need a united front, and they must be willing to use violence to secure their local resources.

With all of that in mind, I can't give it anymore than three stars because the writing is quite dry. It is a history text, I understand that, but it could use a little bombast... a little poetry.
 
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