Short Review Diary ‑ Books and other Reading

An incomplete timeline of what I read - mostly contributions to various forum threads. Read books and stories (audio formats) are included here.

Apr 24 2022

I found two Carl Hiaasen novels on a give-away shelf. Boy was I happy! I must've read 90% of his novels many years back.
They are what is called an easy read but very opinionated about human nature, sociology, politics and the environment.
All his books are set in Florida.

A small excerpt describing the villain Bode (Lucky You, 1997):

Bodean James Gazzer had spent thirty-one years perfecting the art of assigning blame. His personal credo - Everything bad that happens is someone else's fault - could, with imagination, be stretched to fit any circumstance. Bode stretched it. The intestinal unrest that occasionally afflicted him surely was the result of drinking milk taken from secretly radiated cows. The roaches in his apartment were planted by his filthy immigrant next-door neighbors. His dire financial plight was caused by runaway bank computers and conniving Wall Street Zionists; his bad luck in the South Florida job market, prejudice against English-speaking applicants. Even the lousy weather had a culprit: air pollution from Canada, diluting the ozone and derailing the jet stream... A series of unhealthy friendships eventually drew Bode Gazzer into the culture of hate and hard-core bigotry. Previously, when dishing out fault for his plight, Bode had targeted generic authority figures - parents, brothers, cops, judges - without considering factors such as race, religion or ethnicity. He'd swung broadly, and without much impact. But xenophobia and racism infused his griping with new vitriol.

Sound familiar? ;)

Right now I'm reading Lucky You and Nature Girl is next.

Dec 24 2021

I am currently re-reading Stanisław Lem's Eden for the third time.
It has always been my favourite Lem novel. It's mainly an exploration of an alien planet with a clearly advanced alien civilisation, the impossibility of understanding what's going on, how utterly unfamiliar everything is.
Lem's descriptions are wonderful. He always tries to see everything with a cool, scientific eye, without anthropomorphising.
He does not resort to those well-established crutches most SF writers use even today, he creates his worlds "from scratch" so to speak.
The book is not about alien hostility and if anything it's the astronauts' own fear that makes them lash out violently.
They are overcome by their morals and ethics and desperately try - and fail - to understand the perceived horrors around them.
Critics say this isn't Lem's best novel - it may be flawed because its 6 characters remain a little flat and not as mature as in e.g. Solaris, and the story, sans the descriptions of this truly alien planet, doesn't amount to much, but for me it is a masterpiece precisely because of that. It concentrates on this one topic: trying (and ultimately failing) to grasp with human perception something that is truly alien.

April 14 2021

We have talked about Hannu Rajaniemi before. Now I am pleased to announce that he published a post-Covid19-SciFi story (or a bunch of them afaiu) and no other then LeVar Burton reads it. It's a nice story that picks up the current topics of pandemic, vaccination, and possible lasting effects on humanity in a totally non-cheesy way quite worthy of the author of Quantum Thief.

And again sauna culture is a part of the story.

Kudos to Levar Burton for getting the pronunciation of Finnish words largely right (except for the name of Hannu Rajaniemi himself for some reason).

I wouldn't have half-translated hiidenkirnu as "Hiisi's churn", but I guess that's not Burton's fault.

Several islands called Junfgfruholmen actually exist, and the only one in Finnish waters isn't so far from Hanko.

Aug 29 2020

Not technically reading, this is an audiobook:
Scaramouche by Raphael Sabatini
(BTW I heartily recommend this podcast)

It takes place during the French Revolution.
The reader said that they wanted something from that era, with swords & romance, but disliked the usual "swashbuckling" (and misogyny) a lá Three Musketeers.
This novel was written in the early 20th century as I'm only now finding out.
I guess that explains why the language and expression is so easy to comprehend, but a big praise goes out to the reader. He is very good at it. He makes it entertaining, heartfelt.
The depiction of the time of the 1st French Revolution is subtle, nuanced, enlightening, personal.

July 8 2020

Kim Gordon - Girl in a Band

This was gifted to me. It's a better read than I thought it would be. Perceptive description of relations, but in an easy, direct language.

A typical life story, it starts with the divorce (I didn't even know she'd been married to Thurston Moore for 27 years, basically during the whole existence of Sonic Youth) and then flashes back to her childhood... that's as far as I got so far, but her style makes me want to read more.

PS: The German translation I'm reading seems to concentrate on structurally precise translation instead of readability and feels stilted, but I think I can sense the original through it.

Apr 18 2020

I finally finished Steve Winton's Eyrie.
That writer has got some talent both for lyrical expression and telling an emotional & suspenseful & extraordinary story.
"Bruised revelation" and "disillusionment and salvation" it reads on the cover. Yeah.
Recommended (the book, and I'll surely read more by him).

Dec 31 2019

I'm still reading Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series, 7 books in now. The 1999 novel had some internet stuff in it, fun to read 20 years later: Detective1: It's a hyperlink for a web address. Detective2: What? English please!

I'm also reading Tim Winton's Eyrie which, after a bumpy start, I like more and more. It's not a sad description of a depressed dropout drinking himself to death.

Then I grabbed a friend's book for a moment and was very intrigued by one of Lester Bangs' articles, The White Noise Supremacists - and how much I see the Internet of the 3rd millenium in it. Things haven't really changed all that much in 40 years. Of course this guy was some sort of avantgarde thinker.

Nov 2 2019

Reading Harry Bosch. Four books into the series, it's still very good. More than just a nod to the "classics" of L.A. hard-boiled crime fiction, and serioulsy twisted & evolving plots that well warrant the 400+ pages each book has.

Aug 11 2019

I started listening to Dhalgren as an audiobook.
Utterly amazing.
It seemed to be a contemporary audiobook (ripped from a cassette) with a very distinctive voice.
Unfortunately the rip was so broken that I had to give it up; but now I'm somehow fixated on this version and don't want to read it or listen to another voice...

Aug 4 2019

I was in the woods for real...
did have my smartphone with me though, and read Summerland on it.
Almost as good as his Jean le Flambeur Series - and an easier read, steampunk spy story style.

Then Radicalized on real paper.
Definitely an easy read, but warmly recommended nevertheless. "Unauthorized Bread" says it all. Dystopian visions that are uncomfortably close to our current lives.

Jun 30 2019

Michal Viewegh - Bliss Was it in Bohemia
Almost finished now.
For a long time I was put off by the arrogance displayed both by the writer's main character and the writer himself, but couldn't put the book down nevertheless.
Now I understand: the detached arrogance and sarcasm are necessary to present a very painful and claustrophobic topic in a humorous and entertaining way: the socio-emotional and psychological pressures of unwillingly living under a totalitarian regime.
I also happen to know that his descriptions are realistic; he just has a way of pointing out the abstruse in it.

I was told that the title of the book is untranslatable.
In any case "Bliss Was it in Bohemia" is total crap.
The word-correct translation would be "Wonderful Years Under the Dog"
I read it in German, they made it "Wonderful Years for Dogs" - not precise either.
Also in the text there's lots of details where you sense that the translator was struggling to translate a play on words without using any extra meaning. Nevertheless enjoyable. A fun book about a difficult topic.

May 27 2019

Glad you're enjoying le Guin.
you recapitulations bring back memories... in retrospect The Dispossessed left the greatest impact, maybe because it was the last one I read, in at least two attempts, because it wasn't an easy read for me.
But the description of a colonisation of a planet without infinite resources, without interstellar war but the constant fight for breathable air, water, food - yet it's all about moral, not survival - deep, serious, fascinating.

You might also like the Earthsea animated film, and possibly the novels too though they're definitely fantasy, not sci-fi.

May 17 2019

Haven't you known Ursula K. Le Guin before?
I must have read ALL her novels,what, a decade ago (before I started watching too many films on my computer) - both fantasy and sci-fi. (I think the Earthsea novels also exist as an animated film.)
I always liked the social part of Sci-fi (because the development of a society and human interaction in the future is a science, too) and surely enjoyed her way.
BUT all her sci-fi novels are based on the idea that aliens are basically human, too.
Even though this fact is well explained in her alternate history, it's still a bit of a stretch for me.
But then again, the same could be said for most sci-fi...

Mar 15 2019

the potter book series was much more entwined with the films iirc.
anyhow i did read at least one book before the first film even came out.
at that time it was a wonderful coming together of kids, teenagers and adults all reading & loving the same books.

LOTR I read at least twice before the first films even came out.
One of the first books I bought myself, three grass green paperback volumes.
I have also watched the films several times by now, but i guess i should read the books again.
btw i heard tolkien was inspired by finnish language in general, and when he created the elvish language, so one thing in common with rajaniemi.

still reading the fractal prince... i'm slow... just for lulz, there's an even funnier sauna scene there (in finland it's common to go out to roll in the snow or even swim in icy water when you get enough steam - in an oortian sauna this is replaced by hard vacuum - the dark man's kiss)!
but that's just a detail; i fully agree with twoion's critique.

Feb 18 2019

So far I like the sequel, too (The Fractal Prince). Even better in some ways... but I'm not through yet.

Hannu Rajaniemi (Finnish guy)!

yep. the book is oroginally written in English though.
I like how he inserts finnish symbolic names, and how certain aspects of finnish culture & mentality have been translated to inhabitants of the oort cloud... :D

Very entertaining sci-fi setting which will rustle your imagination. Action, some really well-written passages...

i'd like to point out the concept of the gentleman thief. apparently the blue print is some french novel character named Arséne Lupin, but i haven't read that so cannot say how far the parallels go.
This reminds me of another sci-fi novel that is modeled after the story of the count of monte cristo.

Jan 26 2019

After leaving you hanging for almost half a year, I can finally report on having read all books in the trilogy: The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death's End.

The books are getting gradually better and the third one is a real treat to read.

thanks for getting back.
the mere fact that you hung on to read all of them speaks for it i guess...
i will give it another try eventually.

Before christmas I read
Jo Walton - Among Others.
I'm not sure how much I liked it, but it's worth a read for its extraordinariness and weirdness.
It's full of names of 1960s/70s scifi & fantasy authors & novels; I wrote most of them down and am researching them now.
Names like Roger Zelazny, Samuel R. Delany, John Brunner, Robert Silverberg, Josephine Tey... Currently listening to Babel 17 as audiobook (very low quality, probably ripped from an old cassette).

Now reading
Hannu Rajaniemei - The Quantum Thief
very nice!
quote me from elsewhere:

A surprise find.
Said to be "hard" sci-fi. Idk, but it's a wonderful story.
Next-dimension internet and quantum technology are interwoven into people's physical lives, and that's also an essential part of the plot.
Example: people intuitively adjust how much of their lives they show to others. Passers-by are often only shadows, shrouded in privacy.
Everything that happens is recorded in "Exomemory".
You don't tell someone where the bus station is, you share a co-memory with them.
People have "smartskin".
The story: a heist (and a conspiracy revealed). What do you steal in times like this? Information, time.
I am almost 3/4 through, I hope my praise isn't too early.
It's a trilogy, so two more books to come.

Aug 22 2018

the translation of the Chinese original feels completely different while reading; while the story and concepts are interesting, the style lacks what I would call literary craftsmanship and appears completely 'flat', without any decorum or elaborate use of words. I don't know whether that's a property of modern Chinese literature altogether, but who knows, I can't read Chinese…

Then there is the actual structure of the book: Across several chapters, an arc with actual characters doing things is built up, just to end in some kind of scientific Q&A session where one party elaborates on some neat science concept and a counterparty interjects and is the one 'being taught a lesson', completely breaking up any character or plot development. This might actually be a Chinese literary instrument, but who knows. Overall, it's like the sci-fi content is delivered in chunks between chapters where the plot actually moves. Particularly the last third of book I and the first chapters of book II suffered from this kind of delivery style; I'm on page 120 of book II now and it's become much more delectable to read.

i fully agree on all points.
i am listening to the audiobook, in english, and got finally exasperated a few chapters into the second part.
this is boring.
in my mind, i dubbed it "nerd fiction".
i doubt i will pick it up again, but i'm waiting for your report!

i was thinking it was a trilogy; if it isn't this would be one more reason to NOT pick it up again.
i like a long story, but i hate an endlessly drawn out saga...

additionally (to what you said) there's some "romance" woven into the book, but it feels just as propped on as the (pseudo?)scientific explanations:

mildly depressed science guy falls in love with ethereal, improbably "perfect" girl...

this actually happens again (?) in the third part, which i accidentally started reading first.
it feels like a prop from a different genre (just like the grumpy cop that pops up every now and then) - a cliché.

BUT, it's really interesting to get some insight into chinese politics & history & culture & how people there think nowadays.

Aug 14 2018

Män som hatar kvinnor.
Probably I read it already, and definitely watched both film adaptations (first the swedish, then the slightly less, but still good, hollywood), but it's been a while and it's a really fine story.

Jul 31 2018

I've been out and about in the finnish wilderness for two weeks, and decided to not take any books with me, rely on my phone as an ebook reader instead. It definitely reduces baggage, has the additional benefit of not needing a flashlight when reading at night.
though without a solar charger (i got a cheap one just before leaving, but it doesn't work) it's difficult.


Helene Wecker - The Golem and the Jinni
two creatures from different mythologies meet in new york in 1900, and besides a complex mystery, a complicated love story develops.
there's much more to it than that. just read it.

May 23 2018

if someone told me "here's a really good book about the zombie apocalypse, featuring a manga-style century-old eternally teenage girl", i wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot selfie stick. if they told me after that "actually really it's the vampire apocalypse", that wouldn't help either.
it's a good thing i picked up Justin Cronin - The Passage on a whim and without knowing what it is.
the story spans centuries and goes beyond the north american continent, and it never focuses on gore or suspense, but always on people.
not the typical action-hero-have-to-save-humanity type either.

shortly, it's a well written scifi/fantasy novel, don't be put off by the vampire apocalypse framework. the author is deliberately avoiding the apocalyptic mega-action anyhow, it's all about the small stories that develop in between, and the big, long, encompassing story.

Jan 14 2018

The Expanse

I haven't been reading anything else in the past couple of months or so!
Just finished Cibola Burn yesterday and continued straight to the next, Nemesis Games.

Just finished Revenger by Alastair Reynolds...An outrageously good read, highly recommended.

Hard science-fiction novel I read?

The science definitely doesn't get in the way of the fiction.
Although in the first book i read by him (not his first book), some weird time/space distortion was an integral part of the storyline. not that i could tell, not being a space physicist, but it's good to know that it all adds up scientifically.
Beautiful stories. Not always a page turner but deeply fascinating.

Nov 23 2017

I've finished books I, II & III of The Expanse series and found them quite entertaining;

i am now well into the third book, and i love it.
yes, entertainment, but high quality ... (and this is where i always fail to be a critic; i just like the books, that's partly personal, partly because they're well written - they avoid certain traps and never leave the bad aftertaste of having been sold the cheap stuff)

Sep 2 2017

the "landscape" descriptions in Solaris (book) are amazing, and no movie can recreate this no matter how many hollywood dollars & clooneys you throw at it!

Jul 30 2017

... is "THE Science Fiction Writer" as far as I'm concerned.

well, for me Stanisław Lem was the first, and still unparalleled in many respects...

have you ever been annoyed by how aliens (in sf novels) always happen to be similar to something we humans are familiar with? mostly human (two legs, two arms, a face with mouth and nose and eyes...), sometimes reptilian, insect... you know this sorry parade if you read/watch too much SF like me.

That's why i've always been preaching the importance of a novel like Eden. Not because of its outcome, but because of the author's incredible imagination, and complete willingness and devotedness to create and describe something really alien.

Anyhow, it's been a while since I read the book, but recently I found it on a book exchange shelf, and a nice east german issue at that!

The five heroes don't even have names, they're just "The Chemist", "The Doctor", "The Coordinator" etc.
It's all about trying to describe things as objectively as possible; but comparison with something familiar always creeps in, morals, ethics, of a human world.
Despite the attempted objectiveness, the descriptions are lush, colourful, exciting.
It's also about the crew's struggle to comprehend what they are seeing, and keep they're inappropriate human reactions at bay.

Just read it.

May 5 2017

Start with the Death novels (because it's hilarious). Here is a handy guide.

thanks! i'd also received advice elsewhere.
for now t. pratchett is on hold again because of this. not my first a.reynolds novel, and certainly not my last!
but the advice is much appreciated, i will get there evtl.

the expanse: seen the mini series and much enjoyed it. iirc, it had this wild west charm? popcorn scifi, yeah.

dune: just recently i got reminded of this again. some people (nerds) use dune references like it was the lord of the rings of scifi (username spice baron etc.). have to read the book someday.

Apr 2 2017

For some reason, I haven't read almost any Terry Pratchett in my Life, so far.
But this book got me much more interested.

But since his output is so vast, any recommendations on how to tackle it, keeping the storylines in order etc.?

Mar 31 2017

If you're interested in manga (I haven't read much), some novel-style and -quality works are: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (the full-length work has about 80% story than the animation movie and is IMO much better, the movie is crap in comparison).

i agree.
there's much more in the manga, the characters are padded slightly differently, and the visual quality, the organic strangeness of it all, works well even in b/w 2D.
i read it before seeing the movie, and remember being slightly disappointed.
not that i don't have a lot of appreciation for ALL of hayao miyazaki's work.

Mar 22 2017

The only issue I have is that the depiction of women is a bit derogatory to me. Though this could be just for the narrative, and plot...

for the plot?
anyhow, very common for older sci-fi stuff, but thankfully dying out.
although probably slower than in other sectors.
and sci-fi still seems to be mostly for boys... but i'm ok with that.

currently reading pratchett/baxter: the long war - and they took a weird kind of compromise:
a dead nun gets resurrected inside an android, but whoever created the android made the boobs too large. she protests ("whoever did this, could you please tone it down a little?") - but still, from now on they can use it as a running gag throughout the book (sexy nun!) - but not for the plot, i dearly hope.
i wish they wouldn't have felt the need for that compromise between sexism and gender correctness.

Jan 20 2017

a casual jump from early 20th century russian literature to historical novel (early soviet union! very interesting!) to science fiction bordering on pulp fiction - and I'm not even one third into the Ice Trilogy yet...

Aug 4 2016

i was reading gwyneth jones's "bold as love" until a day ago.
it definitely has its charms, esp. when you're out camping with fellow travelers.
i can't really put a genre on it, it has sci-fi, fanatasy, alternative history and plain socio-critical novel in it. it's DEFINITELY worth a read. but there's no climax as far as i can see.

now i started reading bryan aldiss' "non-stop". a classic of sci-fi, i am told. great story, a little too wild-west-like for my taste (a group of rough men, thrown together by fate rather than by choice), but i appreciate the depth of vision, so far (about one third in). a friend of mine was amazed when i said it's from the fifties, and so am i.


Feb 26 2016

In the book they talk about Roman artifacts being buried by dirt and debris over time. Kind of fascinating when you think about it.

that's actually one of my favorite fun facts i like to tell when they ask me what's the difference between life in finland and central europe: history.
köln, my birth city, is founded by the romans. nowadays, the street level is 12m (iirc) higher than it was 2000 years ago, which means that the present city is built on 12m of trash and rubble throughout history.
and the museum i talked about is about the only place in finland where you can find that sort of history; used to be the capital when the swedes took it.
the rest of finland is mostly wood (in every sense) and that just doesn't preserve in the same way.

Feb 8 2016

I was just a bit concerned, considering your posts a few months ago about your state of unemployment.

i try not to be smug about it, but it's less of a problem in most european countries, compared to the US of A.
i mean, people still don't want to be unemployed, and maybe you'd have to sell your beamer and eventually also your house, but it's releaving to know that there's some significant social security in place.

Dec 15 2015

Douglas Adams - The long dark Tea-time of the Soul

i remember casting it aside many years ago, because it isn't hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy.
now i find it surprisingly funny and entertaining.
perfect literature for commuting. people are probably wondering what makes me chuckle & giggle half of the journey - then they see the author's name, and i get some knowing & friendly glances. :)

Nov 11 2015

I felt i had to jump to the rescue for a. reynolds. i think he's the only active writer even remotely able to fill the gap that iain banks left behind, god rest his soul.
if you ever happen to read an iain m. banks novel, i'd be interested to hear your opinion.

about the term "science fiction" - i think it's a relic from the 50s when these type of movies & novels were mostly about futuristic technology, but since they almost inevitably ended up in space, it's become a term for that, too.
yes, the larger part is probably fantasy, but i like the prerogative of "alien": try to imagine something that has nothing to do with what exists on planet earth or in human minds... and space travel, which presumes advanced technology and thus, at least for humans, the future.

Nov 10 2015

"Pushing Ice" by Alistair disappointing.. (painfully long ) journey ... The book is just completely...utterly dull.

I'll give you this:
Alastair Reynolds is not the best creator of suspense.

his characters aren't so polished, but very real and complex, imo.
some people might perceive this as flawed.

in all other points, i disagree.

there's huge vision in this book, a story created that is so far out from everything one might be experiencing in our day & age, yet so accomplished, both dramatically and science-fictionally.

i esp. enjoyed the "fractal zoom effect", when they think they found the aliens, and they turn out to be just a tiny part in an incredibly larger scheme...

Oct 29 2015

anyhow, i remembered at least one more:

Gwyneth Jones: Spirit or The Princess of Bois Dormant

that was abso-effing-lutely crazy fantastic.

I've been reading a few Alastair Reynolds books as well. I gotta say I'm not a HUGE fan of some of his writing style... Pushing Ice is a bit odd... but I like how he incorporates specks of "hard" science into the stories.

i love it when authors have the vision to totally drown themselves in the worlds they create (hmmm, that came out wrong...) whilst still remaining - hmmm again - "credible"?
i haven't seen that anywhere but in franz kafka, or the lord of the rings, but it seems that the genre sci-fi most generously lends itself to it.
i do like the science, too. have you ever read how iain m. banks describes a spaceship? :o
have you read stanislaw lem's eden? how he describes how utterly alien aliens are. how lost the human astronauts are with their preconceptions.