Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


Archive for the 'Reading' Category

Recommended Links and an Update

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Links
If you were interested in the technology and ethical questions behind The Last Good Man, you might enjoy this article by Andrew Apostolou, which presents a good real-world overview of these topics: “Get Ready for the Silicon Military”.

And because mercenaries are part of The Last Good Man, I’ll also recommend David A. Graham’s piece “Are Mercenaries Really a Cheaper Way of War?” (Hint: the answer is almost certainly “no.”)

And on an entirely different subject, Alastair Reynolds fans should head on over to Audible where you can download a free interview with him, wherein he talks about his novel Revenger. And if haven’t read Revenger I highly recommend it. I loved the world building in this one.

An Update
As for me, I’ve been making progress on a novel, and am itching to work on a couple of other projects as soon as I can get myself organized enough to juggle more than one project at a time.

There’s not much new to report on The Last Good Man. I had hoped to get a couple more professional reviews, but those didn’t materialize. I’m not sure what I can do for more publicity at this point, though I’m always looking for opportunities. Honestly, I’m spending too much time worrying over publicity when I should be focused on writing. It does get frustrating though. I always feel like I should be doing more to promote the book. Sales have been better than any indie book I’ve published before, but not good enough yet to call it a success.

That said, reader reviews have generally been terrific. THANK YOU to everyone who’s posted a review at Amazon. It’s really appreciated. If you’re wondering if additional reader reviews are needed, my answer is “Yes!” and not just for The Last Good Man. If you enjoyed the books in the Red trilogy, those could use some new reviews too.

Giveaways Upcoming
If you haven’t done so already, do signup for my newsletter. I’m going to be holding giveaways for audiobook codes for The Last Good Man and paperback sets of the Red trilogy — starting very soon!

October by China Mieville

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

I decided I needed to read some China Mieville–or more accurately, listen to some China Mieville–so I looked over the offerings at Audible and ended up with a new NON-fiction book: OCTOBER: The Story of the Russian Revolution.

The narration was excellent and I found the history fascinating, although it did include a lot of names I couldn’t always keep track of. Despite this, OCTOBER feels like it captures a good sense of the times, and serves as a great introduction for those of us unfamiliar with the history. Find it at Audible.

Since I’m too lazy to acquire a cover image, I’ll just post this tweet: 😉

American Gods

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods not too long after it was first published. With all the publicity surrounding the television series — which I haven’t seen yet — it seemed like a good time to revisit it. This time, instead of reading, I listened to the audiobook edition. In summary: Highly Recommended!

The audiobook is full cast. Different narrators read different voices, and Neil himself contributes some of the interludes. I advise you not to be in a hurry as you listen to it. It’s a long and complex story populated by many characters. The epilogue — also long — is structured to remind us of those many characters and also serves as a lesson in how to effectively tie off plot threads one by one.

Not a complaint, just a wry observation:
Our protagonist, Shadow, is described as a young man, big and tall, with long dark hair. For me, one of the peculiarities of the audiobook was that Daniel Oreskes, who voices Shadow, sounds a lot like Vin Diesel. Now, Vin Diesel has a fine voice and so does this narrator, so this wasn’t a problem. Still, my identification of that voice with Vin Diesel meant I was visualizing a young Vin Diesel instead of a young man with long dark hair. Oh well.

If you’re looking for a terrific audiobook, you won’t go wrong with this one.

Recommended: Summit by Harry Farthing

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

I loved this novel.

Summit is what I like to call a literary thriller — adventure, conflict, brave deeds, beautifully written, filled with philosophy and politics, and not formulaic. It’s the debut effort of Harry Farthing who, from his website, is a British businessman, world traveler, and adventurer. I listened to the audio edition, which was read by the author. He has an excellent voice and I greatly enjoyed his performance.

The summit referred to in the title is Mount Everest, highest peak on Earth. The mountain is central to the dual stories of two European mountaineers — one modern, one pre-World War II. In both settings, Farthing pays respectful attention to the Sherpa, who are well-rounded characters with stories of their own. The author is in no hurry to bring the two principle story threads together, but that’s all right, because both plot lines are fascinating and well told.

There is also a timeliness to Summit as it explores the politics and atrocities of Nazi Germany alongside the dangerous modern-day resurgence of European fascism.

If you love tales of adventure and mountaineering, backed with historic detail, and featuring believable, sympathetic characters, then give Summit a try — and let me know what you think!

Recommended Audiobook:
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Friday, January 13th, 2017

The full title of Trevor Noah’s childhood memoir is Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. I picked this audiobook because it had been named a best book of the year by several publications, and because the sample I listened to hooked me immediately.

I can’t say I was a fan of Trevor Noah before this. Really, I knew almost nothing about him except that he was the new host of The Daily Show. But I’m a fan now.

Trevor Noah reads the audiobook himself. He has a wonderful voice and is multilingual, speaking not just the various accents of the characters in the story, but also speaking brief sentences in native languages as he narrates incidents.

The title, Born a Crime, refers to Trevor himself. He was born under apartheid, the son of a black woman and a white man — his very existence evidence of an illegal act — and for the first several years of his life his parents hid him from officials and nosy neighbors.

The quality of the storytelling in this book is amazing. Trevor relates many experiences, beginning in his childhood and progressing through the start of his career as a comedian. Throughout, he reflects with great insight, intelligence, and empathy on what he’s seen and what he’s done. He speaks truths without outrage, but rather in a “let’s talk, let’s get real” style that is easy to listen to, but still powerfully communicates the hardships and the challenges faced by those who endure bigotry, poverty, and destructive cultures. He delves into issues of misogyny and the rights of women, and the incredible strength, independence and stubbornness of his own mother. He discusses racism, skin color, apartheid, poverty, education, the police, life in an abusive home, and making a living when your options are few.

Despite all that, this book is in no sense a downer. Quite the opposite: The strength of spirit and determination that exists in every story that Trevor tells is both inspiring and uplifting.

Highly recommended.

Recommended Reading: Ninefox Gambit

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

I started, and failed to finish, three or four novels before picking up Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit. If you’re looking for something different, something challenging and endlessly interesting — a puzzle to be figured out — try this one.

I’m still not sure what it’s about.

Usually I say very little about the plot or even the background of the books that I recommend here, because I think a book is best appreciated without preconceptions. But I’m making an exception this time. So if you’re already intrigued, go off and read Ninefox Gambit. Otherwise, read on for just a bit of discussion about the book.

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Recommended Links

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Two recent articles you might find interesting:

At The Atlantic Joe Fassler has gathered what for him is “The Best Writing Advice of 2016.” These are quotes from literary writers talking about writing. I was particularly interested in Lydia Millet’s thoughts on writing fiction that’s based around current conflicts and politics:

In approaching these ideas in a fictional vein I’ve had to wrestle, on the technical side, with the trickiness of balancing the aesthetics of contemporary writing (grounded in the subjective and averse to the didactic, committed to the personal and hostile to the general) with what might unfashionably be called a moral vision
[…]
In fiction, philosophical, political, or religious ideas tend to be most convincing when they arise organically out of a character.

And in the same article, some cold truth from Mark Haddon:

I’ve come to accept that I’m going to be bored and frustrated for long periods. I’ve come to accept that I’ll be regularly dissatisfied […] I have to be patient and slog onward and trust that something better will come along.

…for me, the job of writing is pretty uphill most of the time. It’s like climbing a mountain — you get some fantastic views when you pause or when you get to the top, but the actual process can be tough. I’m sure there are people out there who enjoy writing, and I wish them all the best, but I’m not like that.

This describes my own process with eerie accuracy. I know there are people who think writing is fun. Wish I were one of them!

At the New York Times, Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes about “The Great A.I. Awakening.” This is a fascinating article on “how Google used artificial intelligence to transform Google Translate, one of its more popular services — and how machine learning is poised to reinvent computing itself.” Read the whole thing if you have time. If you don’t, at least read the epilogue. Here are a few excerpts:

We’re not only talking about three and a half million truck drivers who may soon lack careers. We’re talking about inventory managers, economists, financial advisers, real estate agents. What Brain did over nine months is just one example of how quickly a small group at a large company can automate a task nobody ever would have associated with machines.
[…]
The most important thing happening in Silicon Valley right now is not disruption. Rather, it’s institution-building — and the consolidation of power — on a scale and at a pace that are both probably unprecedented in human history.
[…]
…once machines can learn from human speech, even the comfortable job of the programmer is threatened.

I wonder how long until computers get good at writing near-future science fiction…?

Hey, maybe the Red is already here.

Recommended Reading: Darktown

Friday, November 4th, 2016

darktown_by_thomas_mullenThomas Mullen is the author of Darktown, a novel set in Atlanta shortly after World War II, in a time when black police officers were first allowed to work in the Atlanta Police Department.

Darktown succeeds on multiple levels. First, it’s very well written, with gorgeous detail in both setting and characters, without ever going overboard.

It also works as a straight-up crime novel as police officers attempt to unravel the mystery behind the murder of a young woman.

But the most powerful aspect of the novel for me was the immersion into the violently segregated culture of the deep south during this period of history. The oppression and brutalization of black communities is rendered in detail, but what’s also made clear is how difficult it is to change the status quo when ordinary citizens, including law enforcement, fully support the authoritarian culture and are thoroughly trained to crush any dissent. Yes, this novel is a well-timed reminder of what authoritarianism and bigotry mean for a society.

Despite this, Darktown is not a “downer.” It’s a fascinating, well-told tale of courage.

I listened to the audio edition. I really enjoyed the narrator’s voice, finding it both pleasant to listen to and easy to understand, with the drawback that the voices of the different characters tended to sound the same, and at several points I wasn’t sure who was speaking.

In my own writing, I’ve begun using more speech tags – he said / she said – since I started listening to audiobooks. Speech tags aren’t always necessary if you’re reading text. If two characters are in conversation, a paragraph break indicates when a different character is speaking. But a listener can’t see this, so additional speech tags can be necessary for clarity. Something to keep in mind, for those of you who write.

Persistent Technologies

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

I’ve been catching up on my reading, and chanced to find — almost simultaneously — two articles looking at the potential advantages of old, seemingly outdated technologies.

The first, “What An NFL Coach, The Pentagon And Election Systems Have In Common” starts off with a discussion of Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, angrily rejecting the use of tablets during football games, calling the technology “undependable.” It goes on to talk about the inherent security of the paper trail generated by America’s old-fashioned and decentralized voting system, and the potential security in the antiquated software behind some weapons systems. As someone who is still using an ancient version of Windows on my writing computer, I am in total sympathy with the latter. 🙂

The second article, Why the US Military Still Flies Cold-War Era Planes looks at old, “persistent” technology from a different angle. The U2 was first built in 1955. It’s still flying today. Why? Because it still does the job:

“With its interchangeable nose cones and sophisticated surveillance equipment, there’s no reason not to think of the U-2S as a cutting-edge, contemporary technology

Like all technologies, planes are flexible. They change both through use and through the actions of their users. They undergo maintenance and updates…

I like this term, “persistent technology.” It’s a good concept to keep in mind when writing near-future fiction. Not everything has to be shiny and new.

Recommended Reading: How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

rosa_brooks_tales_from_the_pentagonHow Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon, by Rosa Brooks, is a wide-ranging overview of the present state of the American military, how we got to this point, the effect of recent changes on both our system of government and on the world at large, the implications for the future, and thoughts on how we can do better.

Rosa Brooks is a law professor, who worked at the Pentagon for two years, and is a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy.

She writes that post-9/11 the role of the American military has expanded beyond traditionally “military” functions, taking over territory that once belonged to civilian departments, in particular the Department of State. This happened gradually, as cost-cutting measures reduced the size and effectiveness of civilian departments, leaving the military as the only branch with a budget that allowed it to rise to the task — and as the military took on more tasks, civilian departments were further trimmed. It’s this process that Brooks captures with the book’s title, but she pursues many other subjects.

There are interesting discussions of the way we’ve chosen to see war and peace as polar opposites, as two easily distinguished states — our view being heavily biased by the world wars. “What is war?” is an important question because our laws change depending on whether or not we are “at war.” A state of war allows many actions (killing, indeterminate imprisonment) that are not allowed during peacetime. But a closer look at history offers the idea that there is a continuum between war and peace — the “space between” — that is not all-out war, but is also not peace. And if we accept that we are now — and likely will be for the foreseeable future — caught in this “space between” then we need to develop a legal framework to deal with it.

Brooks also looks at the precedents America has set by asserting “a unilateral right to use force in secret and with little accountability outside the executive branch…”

Her description of the international community is especially disturbing:

“…the international community” struggles to respond effectively to the challenges posed by “failed” states. From the perspective of an alien observer from another planet, the “international community” of the planet earth would surely appear like a failed state writ large; it has proven consistently unable to control the violence of powerful actors (whether states or nonstate entities such as terrorist organizations), control environmental catastrophes such as climate change; remedy astronomically large economic inequities between individuals and societies, constrain the devastating scramble to exploit the earth’s dwindling natural resources, or address crises such as global epidemics.”

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything offers a lot to learn and ponder. It’s well researched and well argued. Recommended.