DXMachina (dxmachina) wrote,
DXMachina
dxmachina

Books

It's been awhile since I've talked about what I've been reading.

First up was Thud!, by Terry Pratchett. I own a lot of Pratchett's books, mostly by accident. Thud! is the first I've bought intentionally. I'm glad I did. I Liked it far more than I expected, mostly because it wasn't at all what I expected. Based on blurbs and descriptions I'd read about Pratchett's stuff, I was expecting silly, and perhaps even very silly, much along the lines of Douglas Adams. That's one of the reasons it took me this long to get round to reading it. I like Adams a lot, but a little silly goes a long way, you know? Don't get me wrong. Thud! is a very funny book. It's just that the plot makes sense, the characters make sense, and there's a pretty good mystery to be solved. Not silly at all. (Okay, the thing with the four elephants and the turtle seems silly, but it's not mentioned here.)

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Sam Vimes is the lead character in Thud!, and I like him quite a bit. (He reminds me quite a bit of another favorite of mine, Garrett.) So much so that when I was done with Thud!, I pulled my inadvertent copy of Night Watch off the shelf because Vimes is in that one, too. Turned out not to be a mystery this time, but again, it was really good. Sadly, none of the other Pratchetts I own are Vimes books, or I would've continued on through them. I'll get back to them sooner, rather than later, though.

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Next up was a reread of Murder in E Minor, Robert Goldsborough's first attempt at resurrecting Nero Wolfe after Rex Stout's death. It was originally essentially a fanfic, and it shows, mostly in the references to prior novels, which is something Stout seldom did. To be fair, since this book picks up after A Family Affair, there has to be a certain amount of exposition about that, but Goldsborough also mentions a bunch of Wolfe's other published cases. Call it the Star Trek novel syndrome, where the author is always trying to tie his plot into the canon by constantly bringing up incidents from the canon. It's as if the fact that the book has Jim Kirk sitting in the captain's chair on the Enterprise, or Archie Goodwin sitting in his office chair in the old brownstone aren't enough to set the scene. The mystery is simple to figure out (he lifts one of the key bits directly from Murder on the Orient Express), and Goldsborough's prose isn't as good as Stout's, but it isn't a bad book. He did get better as he continued the series.

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I usually like Frederik Pohl's stuff, but Starburst is a mess. It's about eight astronauts who are tricked into taking the first ship to Alpha Centauri by a conniving presidential science advisor. He's created a fiction that there is an earth-like planet for them to colonize, when in fact there isn't. His reason for carrying out this fraud is that he figures that for the ten years that these eight extraordinarily brilliant people will be stuck on the ship, they'll have nothing to do but think deep thoughts, which should provide scads of scientific breakthroughs which they can beam back to an earth that desperately needs them. And they do, but the things they come up with are just preposterous. It's very much an exercise in eighties pop psychology. There isn't even a climax to it. The story ends with a little bit of a whimper. Feh.

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Of all Isaac Asimov's novels, I like the Lije Baley books the most. I just finished a long overdue reread of Asimov's The Naked Sun, which features Baley and his robotic partner R. Daneel Olivaw investigating a murder on the planet Solaria, a world of few humans and many robots. The few humans are so spread out that they become pathologically afraid of physical contact, despite being in constant communication with each other. It's Baley's job to determine how a particularly brutal murder occured when it seems unlikely that the murderer could stand to be in the same building with victim, much less the same room.

It's interesting to come back to a book that you read a long time ago, and see how well it ages. The Naked Sun is now fifty years old, and it's gotten a little creaky. It's still a good book, but the gender politics are pure fifties, and one of the characters speaks longingly of a day when children can be conceived without the need for sex, which seems a little quaint now. OTOH, in creating a world where people are in constant contact, but never see each other in person, Asimov did sort of predict the internet hermit.
 
Tags: books, pratchett, wolfe
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