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August 23, 2012

Irregular Mid-Week Book Thread

So, here's what I've read lately.

Scaramouche. Ehhhh... I kind of liked it but can't recommend it unless you are keenly interested in the French Revolution. It's interesting, but it's not a full-on swashbuckler, or anything close to one. There isn't a lot of swordplay, and unless I'm forgetting something, all but one swordfight (early in the book) takes place off-screen. It's also from that period where novelists seemed to just sort of churn out chapters without worrying about the central narrative arc. Like they just were struck by this idea, then that that one. So the book sort of resembles the haphazard meanderings of real life... which isn't a good thing, necessarily.

Still, it's okay. Maybe Captain Blood will be better.

The Forever War. A classic I'm just now reading. I'm only like six chapters in. Seems good. At the moment it seems to be an update of Starship Troopers but I'm 99% sure, based on what I've read, that there's more to it than just Mobile Infantry suits. Oh, and government-issued pot, and male and female soldiers sleeping together as a common thing. Like, who's sleeping with who tonight? Okay, you'll do.

I'm only on Charon here so don't spoil it.

The Count of Monte Cristo. Supposedly there's this amazing recent translation which re-inserts the censored material (like light Victorian lesbian theming) and scuttles the archaic, stilted English in favor of a vigorous modern prose more like the French Dumas actually wrote in.

It's okay. It's extremely long. I put this down like a month ago and it hasn't beckoned me back. I find myself thinking about the long digressions about post-Napoleonic politics which the Victorians had taken out, but which the fresh translation put back in, and am sort of in favor of the Victorian judgment on this.

It's also a little contrived, and that's despite the fact that something like this really did happen. Dumas ripped the idea off from a policeman's true-crime book he'd read. But his version of the story seems fake.

Maybe any version of the story would seem fake. It's pretty unbelievable.

I'm told that the Count is just major awesome (and it served as the inspiration for The Stars My Destination, of course) but so far I'm not up to the awesome parts. I just got into jail with Dantes, who, by the way, is so naive and dopey I want to punch him in the brain. I don't know if I'm going to wind up finishing this one.

Oh: Over the winter I read Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure tetraology. It's four books, with odd titles, like "The Phnume" or "The Wiggle-waggles."

It's basically got a terrific premise, but then peters out. First he sets you up by describing how awesome a Scout is. A planet trailblazer, a man of action, but also a Renaissance man with training in fifteen different sciences and survival skills.

Then the Scout crash-lands on this planet which is occupied by four different alien races -- none of whom are indigenous to the planet. And each of these races has its own human servitor race -- "sub-men" -- which due to some kind of rubber science not explained, adopts some of the physical characteristics of the alien race they serve.

The great set-up goes almost nowhere, because the only thing he tries to do over four novels is steal or build his own spaceship, to return to earth. After he fails to steal one in the second book, he tries building it in the second two books, and then those books become largely about haggling about prices with engineers, laborers, and bureaucrats. He does move from place to place -- chiefly seeking to build up a cash pile to spend on a spaceship -- but it's pretty episodic and random.

There is a Planet of the Apes type subplot -- the "sub-men" are all convinced by their alien overlords that they were created by the aliens, though there is an occult, suppressed religion that claims humans originated on an entirely different planet -- but the hero actually doesn't really care about this. There is no "Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty alien" sort of rebellion plot. At least not in foreground.

Just a really fun premise, a sci-fi swords & sorcery sandbox for our scout to play in, but doesn't deliver. I guess I have to give it a marginal recommendation because there is scattered fun in it.

I think this premise is so good it must be ripped off and done right.

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posted by Ace at 07:56 PM

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