Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 33 -- Omnilingual

by H. Beam Piper

Started: Sept. 26
Finished: Sept. 27

Notes: My Kindle was looking pretty lonely, so I thought I'd pick it up for a short read. And since I've been reading some classic sci-fi of late, I thought I'd stick with it.

Mini review: This was a fun and interesting read. In the near future (1996 or thereabouts for this story's purposes), a group of archaeologists have taken on the job of excavating an ancient civilization found on the planet Mars. What follows is quite an interesting take on not only archaeology and how it could be applied to another planet and an intelligent alien species, but also how linguistics could be applied. This was definitely worth the read.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 32 -- A Canticle For Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Started: Sept. 19
Finished: Sept. 26

Notes: Here's another classic work I've been meaning to read for years, this time science fiction.

Mini review: This covers particular points in the history of a monastery during an 1,800-year period following a nuclear war. That description pales to the reality, and even sounds trite to my ears, but it's basic enough without giving anything away. There is much in this book to digest, and it is a good book. A very good book. Easy to read but with hidden depths, I'm not convinced it's good enough to have earned the near-mythic reputation it holds in some circles, nor the extent of study that has been heaped upon it, but to quote the late John Gardner, I'm a believer of "criticism makes art sound more intellectual than it is ..." Still, definitely worth reading, even for folks who aren't fans of sci-fi.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 31 -- The Number of the Beast

by Robert A. Heinlein

Started: Sept. 1
Finished: Sept. 19

Notes: I've always appreciated and enjoyed Heinlein's work, but I've never read him as much as I probably should, so it is with some joy I jump into this one.

Mini review: I hate to say it, but this is the first time I felt Heinlein let me down. The basic plot is interesting enough, four more-or-less mathematicians/scientists use a device one of them created to travel to different universes (and eventually timelines), but from there everything seems to go wrong with the story. The story itself seems to take forever, with nothing overly interesting happening in the first two-thirds of the tale, and the characters themselves are their own biggest problem. Speaking of the characters, I might have found them interesting and maybe funny in my youth, but now they just came off as silly and often pompous to me. While the plot seems to have no real driving force and seems to go nowhere for the longest time, in the last third of the book this changes, but to no improvement. Suddenly appears a climax of sorts, but it really doesn't seem all that important. For one thing, there never seems to be any real danger to the characters. Then the last part of the book mixes various realities with fictional realities and characters, all becoming so self-referential to Heinlein's own works (thank goodness I've read enough to get most of the connections) and the works of other science fiction authors that it becomes rather trite and annoying. I think Heinlein meant all of this as sort of a love letter to science fiction, especially pulp fiction as this novel is written in a style more common to early pulps of the 1930s, but it fell flat for me. Maybe it was a novel for its time, or maybe it's a novel I should have read when I was younger (which would have been Heinlein's time), but whatever the case, this one didn't work for me. That doesn't mean I won't read more Heinlein. As an addition, I'd like to point out that this book was Heinlein's first after a seven-year illness that had temporarily halted his writing, so maybe he wasn't fully up to snuff. Or maybe I'm just dull enough not to find it interesting.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 30 -- Starfinder Core Rulebook

by Paizo Publishing

Started: Aug. 29
Finished: Sept. 2

Notes: This is the new science fantasy tabletop role-playing game from Paizo, based somewhat upon the rules for their Pathfinder game, also expanding on the timeline of that universe far into the future. Though fantasy has always dominated the RPG market, I do have a fondness for science fiction games, the old TSR Star Frontiers game of the early '80s being a favorite, so it seemed a natural for me to check this out.

Mini review: It's not likely I'll be playing this one, or that I'll become a fan of it, much for the same reasons I'm not a big Pathfinder player. For me, it's simply a too-detailed game, destroying imagination instead of building it. I'm not saying it didn't take imagination to create the game, only that there are so many rules concerning every single little detail of character creation and character actions and possibilities, that for me it takes away much of the fun and imagination potentially available for players and instead makes this a game of points and math, a game of simple numbers, of beating opponents just because you've got higher numbers in damage dealt, armor class, etc. Not that this won't possibly be a popular game, as there are plenty of rpgers who want every little detail spelled out for them, who love the intricate character creations, etc., but I'm not one of them. Maybe I'm just too old, too busy, or maybe the streamlined (sometimes called "dumbed down") Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons has spoiled me. Then again, I didn't think I'd like 5e D&D when it came out and now I'm a huge fan, so my mind can be changed.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 29 -- Bloodstone

by Karl Edward Wagner

Started: Aug. 28
Finished: Sept. 1

Notes: I've read pretty much every short story Wagner ever wrote, but I've not read many longer works by the man, not that there were very many longer works. Anyway, as always, it should be interesting to jump into another tale of Wagner's Kane character.

Mini review: Holy geez, that was a good book. Kane seeks out an ancient power, finds it, puts it to his own use, all while embroiling himself in a war between two city states and sort of, kind of falling in love. All that in less than 300 pages. It has some of what I think of as the "goofiness" common to much fantasy from the mid-60s through about the mid-70s, some telling instead of showing, the overuse of words that sound like Lovecraft made them up, etc., but KEW is a strong enough writer that none of that is really distracting. Yes, I can heartily recommend this one.