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July 16, 2023

Sunday Morning Book Thread - 07-16-2023 ["Perfessor" Squirrel]

071623-Library.jpg
(HT: Trudy)

Welcome to the prestigious, internationally acclaimed, stately, and illustrious Sunday Morning Book Thread! The place where all readers are welcome, regardless of whatever guilty pleasure we feel like reading (a fun romp through Renaissance Italy). Here is where we can discuss, argue, bicker, quibble, consider, debate, confabulate, converse, and jaw about our latest fancy in reading material. As always, pants are required, unless you are wearing these pants.


PIC NOTE

Today's pic comes courtesy of Trudy. Her daughter, Kate, and her grandchildren, Gui, Pascal, and Aethelene, created this amazing little diorama. If you are not familiar with Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, this depicts the Librarian of Unseen University in the city of Ankh-Morpork sitting at his desk. Yes, he's an orangutan. A magical accident many years ago turned him into an ape and he's been that way ever since. He prefers it, actually, refusing any attempts to turn him back into a human. Turns out there are advantages to being a 300-lb. primate who is several times stronger than a human. Plus, as an orangutan, he's fully capable of reading the more dangerous books in the Unseen University Library that contain knowledge Man Was Not Meant To Know. Technically, he's not a man. Just don't ever refer to him as a monkey. He doesn't like that one bit.

The Librarian is one of my favorite characters in the Discworld series. He's conveys a lot of emotion just by saying, "Oook."

He's even mastered the quantum geography of L-Space, which connects all libraries together. That may be why we find him sitting in Trudy's library...

Here are a few more pics, including a larger version of the image at the top of the page. Note the tiny portrait of Sir Terry on the left-hand side of the diorama.

CLOSED OR COMPLETED SERIES

Last week, we discussed various categories of series, based on my own made-up categorizations. Let's look at the idea of a "completed" or "closed" series in more detail.

I tend to enjoy these because you can stretch out a story over multiple volumes, rather than trying to cram everything into one book. That gives authors a lot of breathing room in terms of character and plot development as well as pacing. Though there are still challenges to ensuring that a completed series turns out well. One of the main criticisms of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, which stretches across 14 lengthy books (each one is well over 500 pages), is that the pacing slows down to a drag in the middle of the series, making it a real burden for the reader. When I read that series last year, I had to force myself to get through that part of the series by reinterpreting those books as extensive character studies, rather than plot advancement. That change in perspective made them much more enjoyable than they were the first time I read them, when I just wanted things to move along. On the other side of the coin, Michael Moorcock tends to write much shorter books, with much faster pacing. While this can lead to a satisfying conclusion, he doesn't spend a lot of time on character development, so there is only minimal growth as the main character goes through his adventures.

Some authors write books in a series where each book can be significantly different than the others, yet still tell a cohesive tale. C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy is a bit like that. The first two books detail Ransom's journeys to Mars and Venus, respectively, where he's able to experience just how alien God's universe is. In the third book, the story takes place on a "modern" Earth (contemporary to Lewis' time) where Ransom then gets to see the fallen world of his birth as it really is. Lewis acknowledges this is a major shift in tone between the previous books.

A few authors struggle to write the "correct" number of books for their planned series. Tad Williams famously admits that he's functionally incapable of writing a proper trilogy. His last book in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn had to be split into two volumes when it was released in paperback form as it publishing techniques of the time didn't want to handle a 1,500-page paperback novel. When he was writing the Shadowmarch series, an author's note pointedly states that while he *intended* to write a trilogy, again the final book was too complex to finish the story in just one volume so he extended the series to four volumes.

Raymond Feist suffered this malady from the opposite direction. The first two books of the Riftwar Saga were intended to be a single book with two parts--Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master. However, when it was published in paperback form, it was split into two volumes. Interestingly, the original four books of the Riftwar Saga is really two stories. The first two books tell the story of how Pug becomes a epic sorcerer and stops the Tsurani invasion. The final two books tell the story of Arutha, Prince of Krondor, as he hunts down an evil dark elf. Feist's next major series, the Serpentwar Saga could really be told in two books, but spans another four books. The first book gets the major plot going. The second book can be skipped in its entirety as it's really a treatise on how modern commerce developed, but doesn't advance the plot much. The third book is the major climax of the series, while the fourth and last book is an extended epilogue. The Serpentwar Saga is kind of weird....

Finally, you have authors that seem to get it pretty much right on their first go. You know who I'm talking about...J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It was originally intended to be one hardcover volume split into three books, each of which was also split into two parts. At some point, I believe someone began publishing an unauthorized series of three volumes. This became popular enough that the Tolkien Estate countered with an "authorized" version of the series published by Ballantine books. Again this was hugely popular, turning Lord of the Rings into the fantasy juggernaut we know and love today and influencing countless other authors into imitating that structure for their own series. Dennis L. McKiernan's Iron Tower Trilogy is a note-for-note ripoff of Lord of the Rings, yet it still has its charm.

The major downside of reading a completed series of books is waiting patiently for the next volume to be released. I'm currently waiting for the conclusion of Tad Williams' Last King of Osten Ard series, as well as the next volume of Jim Butcher's Cinder Spires, both of which are expected to be released in November. Nowadays, I'm somewhat reluctant to begin a new series unless it's an author that already has a proven track record of delivering a good story.

Any other pros and cons of completed series?

++++++++++

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WHO DIS

Haven't done one of these in a long while and we don't have any Books By Morons this week...

071623-WhoDis.jpg

  • Individually, each has written at least a half-dozen novels on their own.
  • Together, they have created an elaborate, complex world involving one main franchise spanning over 20 books, one smaller franchise of just a few books, and some additional novels that tie into the overall world.
  • They are most famous for creating a Special Agent of the FBI who plays by his own rules, drives a Rolls Royce, and tends to wear bespoke suits to crime scenes.

++++++++++

MORON RECOMMENDATIONS

Just finished reading Martin Dugardís Last Voyage of Columbus. It was fairly well balanced in that he showed Columbus as both a devout Catholic and a man obsessed with riches and fame which was common for that era. What I enjoyed most was the fact that Columbus was a navigational wizard and an excellent ships captain. He was so good that his rivals believed he was possessed. Dugard also covered the political machinations prevalent between the world powers of that time. He also does not sugar coat the ways of the natives that Columbus had dealings with. I recommend it if you enjoy history and stories of seamanship.

Posted by: RetSgtRN at July 09, 2023 09:17 AM (RqUF/)

Comment: A fair and balance look at historical events is something to be treasured these days because it's so rare. Like most figures in history, Columbus was a flawed man, but that doesn't make him the evil monster that the Left tends to portray him as. The indigenous people he encountered engaged in pretty horrific behavior by the standards of his own time. I did not know that Columbus was a navigational savant.

+++++

Lately I've been reading my way through Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast, which I picked up for cheap along with some other history paperbacks.

Dana was a Harvard man who, by his own account, suffered vision problems after a bout of measles in 1834, which made it hard for him to continue his studies.

His treatment for this was to sign on as an able-bodied seaman aboard a merchant brig sailing from Boston to California by way of Cape Horn. I don't know if doctors in the 1830s were lunatics, or whether "I need a rest cure so I'm going to be a sailor" was the acceptable social code phrase for "I'm bored out of my mind at Harvard and there isn't a war going on right now so I'll risk my life some other way."

Because by his own account, being a sailor in those days was an endless round of very hard physical labor, interrupted by hours or even days of sleepless terror whenever the ocean decided to try to kill everyone. No power equipment, no engines. Everything was done by muscle power, and a merchant carried a crew of only 20, not the hundreds of a man-of-war.

Anyway: great book. Makes a good accompaniment to Moby Dick. Recommended.

Posted by: Trimegistus at July 09, 2023 09:22 AM (QZxDR)

Comment: Believe it or not I don't think all that much has changed when it comes to being a sailor on a merchant marine vessel. Yes, the work is different and you have lots of cool toys to assist in your efforts, but it's still a lot of work. "If ya got time to lean, ya got time to clean!" The food is a lot better and the cabins can be quite comfy on some of the larger vessels. And the sea *never* stops trying to kill you.

+++++

This week I reread The House Next Door, by Anne Rivers Siddons. Published in 1978; I first read it in about 1981. When it first came out Stephen King called it one of the 10 best horror fiction novels (May have come out before The Shining.)

It creeped me out all over again; very well written and hardly anything that "dates" it. Excellent psychological development.

Posted by: skywch at July 09, 2023 09:26 AM (uqhmb)

Comment: Wolfus Aurelius also recommended this book some time ago: "Tremendous story." I may have to read this myself someday because the premise is interesting. A newly constructed house that somehow comes to dominate and terrorize the neighborhood. Without reading it, I do wonder if anyone checked the land it was built on for ancient Indian burial remains. Just sayin'.

+++++

Problem Simplification by Steven Van Dyke.

The basic premise is that life is complicated, but if something is too complex to solve it is probably needing to be broken down into solvable chunks.

He breaks this into three principles: Make sure you know what the problem is, Small problems are easier to fix than big problems, and There is clear and simple answer to every problem and it is wrong - figuring out why it is wrong usually gives you the right answer.

He then fleshes this out by discussing bad interpretation of what the problems are, when it is easier to fix a problem, the difference between a fix and a full rebuild, and then gives some principles he left out at the beginning because it is easier to deal with three main points instead of eight or ten points that overlap.

Quick read and very much to the point. It makes the point that so much "policy goals" in the world are so huge that no one can accomplish them. Goals like "Freeing the world in our lifetime" or "meeting all our customer needs" is a recipe to never succeeding because there is no beginning or ending point, and too big to embrace.

Posted by: Kindltot at July 09, 2023 10:26 AM (xhaym)

Comment: I tend to embrace this principle in my own way. I had an epiphany one year when I had a massive pile of brush that I needed to break down so it could be hauled off. It's just a matter of tackling it one branch at a time. Eventually, you'll reach the end of the pile. Much of my work involves somewhat challenging projects that *could* be quite large indeed, but we try to break them down as best we can into more manageable chunks. Of course the senior executive leadership is very keen on establishing broad goals in their vision statements. Then it's up to us worker bees to somehow figure out how to execute that vision. *sigh*

More Moron-recommended reading material can be found HERE! (875 Moron-recommended books so far!)

+-----+-----+-----+-----+

WHAT I'VE ACQUIRED THIS PAST WEEK:

I went ahead and ordered a few more books to fill in some gaps in series...

  • Special Agent Pendergast Book 1 - Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
  • Special Agent Pendergast Book 2 - Reliquary by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

WHAT I'VE BEEN READING THIS PAST WEEK:

  • Cold Vengeance by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child -- Agent Pendergast is on the trail of his brother-in-law, who attempted to kill him in the Scottish moors...because Pendergast was getting too close to the truth...
  • Two Graves by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child -- Agent Pendergast is violently ripped away from his newly rediscovered wife after she is kidnapped by the mysterious Covenant (i.e., Those Whacky Nazis)
  • White Fire by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child -- Agent Pendergast investigates mysterious murders and arsons at a Colorado ski resort.
  • Blue Labyrinth by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child -- Agent Pendergast must unravel the mystery of who dropped off a dead body on his front stoop.

That's about all I have for this week. Thank you for all of your kind words regarding the Sunday Morning Book Thread. This is a very special place. You are very special people (in all the best ways!). The kindness, generosity, and wisdom of the Moron Horde knows no bounds. Let's keep reading!

If you have any suggestions for improvement, reading recommendations, or discussion topics that you'd like to see on the Sunday Morning Book Thread, you can send them to perfessor dot squirrel at-sign gmail dot com. Your feedback is always appreciated! You can also take a virtual tour of OUR library at libib.com/u/perfessorsquirrel. Since I added sections for AoSHQ, I now consider it OUR library, rather than my own personal fiefdom...

PREVIOUS SUNDAY MORNING BOOK THREAD - 07-16-23 (NOTE: Do NOT comment on old threads!)

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