Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Reading Ideas (page 2 / 2)

Reading Idea: A Mad Catastrophe

A Mad Catastrophe

A Mad Catastrophe
by Geoffrey Wawro
$11.99 on Kindle

I can be persuaded that a book is interesting on the slimmest of recommendations, sometimes. For instance, this offhand comment by Warren Meyer.

Back in the depths of WWI, the Germans woke up one day and found that their erstwhile ally Austria-Hungary, to whom they had given that famous blank check in the madness that led up to the war, was completely incompetent. Worse than incompetent, in fact, because Germany had to keep sending troops to bail them out of various military fixes, an oddly similar situation to what Hitler found himself doing with Italy in the next war. ([A Mad Catastrophe] is a really interesting book if you have any doubts about how dysfunctional the Hapsburg Empire was in its waning days).

And that's pretty much how Amazon describes the book too.

A prizewinning military historian explores a critical but overlooked cause for World War I: the staggering decrepitude of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Reading Idea: The Accursed Kings

The Iron King

The Accursed Kings
by Maurice Druon
$45 on Kindle

Reading Recommendations from George R.R. Martin (emphasis added)

Fantasies are not the only books I recommend to my readers, however. It has always been my belief that epic fantasy and historical fiction are sisters under the skin, as I have said in many an interview. A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE draws as much on the traditions of historical fiction as it does on those of fantasy, and there are many great historical novelists, past and present, whose work helped inspire my own.

Look, if you love A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, and want "something like it" to read while you are waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for me to finish THE WINDS OF WINTER, you really need to check out Maurice Druon and THE ACCURSED KINGS.

I never met Druon, alas (he died only a few years ago, and I regret that I never had the chance to shake his hand), but from all reports he was an extraordinary man. He was French, highly distinguished, a resistance fighter against the Nazis, a historian, a member of the French Academy... well, you can read about his life on Wikipedia, and it makes quite a story in itself. He wrote short stories, contemporary novels, a history of Paris... and an amazing seven-volume series about King Philip IV of France, his sons and daughters, the curse of the Templars, the fall of the Capetian dynasty, the roots of the Hundred Years War. The books were a huge success in France. So huge than they have twice formed the basis for television shows (neither version is available dubbed or subtitled in English, to my annoyance), series that one sometimes hears referred to as "the French I, CLAUDIUS."

Hers the publisher's description for the first novel, The Iron King.

Accursed! Accursed! You shall be accursed to the thirteenth generation!”

The Iron King – Philip the Fair – is as cold and silent, as handsome and unblinking as a statue. He governs his realm with an iron hand, but he cannot rule his own family: his sons are weak and their wives adulterous; while his red-blooded daughter Isabella is unhappily married to an English king who prefers the company of men.

A web of scandal, murder and intrigue is weaving itself around the Iron King; but his downfall will come from an unexpected quarter. Bent on the persecution of the rich and powerful Knights Templar, Philip sentences Grand Master Jacques Molay to be burned at the stake, thus drawing down upon himself a curse that will destroy his entire dynasty…

That sounds … wonderful. It's even better because it's all based on real history. The past is an experience that we can never have or see. I love historical fictional for its ability to make the past live and breathe again. (It's not a perfect reproduction of the past, but it's far better than nothing.)

The entire series is available on Kindle, for just $45.

  1. Books 1-3: The Iron King, The Strangled Queen, The Poisoned Crown; $9.90
  2. The Royal Succession; $6.99
  3. The She-Wolf; $7.99
  4. The Lily and the Lion; $7.99
  5. The King Without a Kingdom; $11.99

Reading Idea: Children of Earth and Sky

Children of Earth and Sky

$13.99 on Kindle

I've enjoyed reading Guy Gavriel Kay ever since I read The Lions of Al-Rassan. After that, I read and loved both the Sarantine Mosaic duology (Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors) and the Under Heaven duology (Under Heaven and River of Stars). When Goodreads told me that he had a new novel coming out, I preordered it right away.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world...

This entry was tagged. Reading Ideas

Reading Idea: The Sector General Series

Zak Zyz, writing at Tor.com, clues me in to a science-fiction series that I was previously unaware of. I'm a sucker for Golden Age SF. This sounds right up my alley.

The series takes place in Sector 12 General Hospital, a sprawling 384-floor hospital space station built in order to cement a lasting peace after humanity’s disastrous first interstellar war. A notable departure from the militaristic space operas of the time, the story of Sector General is explicitly pacifistic, eschewing conquest and combat in favor of the struggle of doctors to understand and heal their alien patients.

It has diverse alien species and environments.

The Sector General series is often commended for its depiction of extraterrestrials that are more than just humans with cosmetic differences. White’s aliens are physiologically far outside of the human experience, with asymmetrical bodies, unusual metabolisms, and strange and often monstrous appearances. Critically, they are also psychologically different. Empathic Cinrusskin aliens are aggressively agreeable peacemakers as they find negative emotional radiation physically painful. Predatory Chalder become too bored to eat when given food they don’t have to chase down and devour alive. White’s aliens are bemused by the human nudity taboo, described as unique to the species.

Designed to treat patients from all the intelligent races in the galaxy, Sector General has wards that replicate living conditions for a vast array of life forms. There are murky undersea wards for the forty-foot long, armored, crocodile-like Chalder, poisonous sections for the chlorine-breathing kelplike Illensans, sub-zero wards for the crystalline methane-breathing Vosans and superheated wards near the hospital’s reactor for radiation-eating Telfi hive-mind beetles.

​And it has the tape learning, so common to the stories of the era.

Facing this incredible menagerie of patients, no doctor could be expected to know how to treat them all. On Sector General, physicians overcome this impossibility by using “educator tapes,” the stored experience of famous alien specialists which the doctors download directly into their brains. The genius psyche temporarily shares space with the doctor’s own persona and advises them as they aid patients. The process is described as intensely jarring, since the educator tapes contain not only the expertise, but the entire personality of its donor. Inexperienced doctors find themselves struggling to eat food that the taped personality disliked, suddenly enamored with members of the expert’s species to whom they wouldn’t normally be attracted, and in some cases they must struggle to maintain control of their own bodies in the face of a personality stronger than their own.

Most doctors hurriedly have their educator tapes “erased” when the emergency at hand has run its course, but some working closely with patients from another species will retain tapes for long periods. The highest ranked medical staff in the hospital are the lordly diagnosticians—senior physicians capable of permanently retaining as many as ten educator tapes in a sort of intentional multiple personality disorder.

​Most importantly:

The Sector General novels are available in omnibus editions from Tor Books.

I looked up the stories. Apparently, I can get all but two in Kindle editions.

More on the Kindle Editions of Horatio Hornblower

On Tuesday, I was happy to discover that I can buy most of the Horatio Hornblower novels for Kindle. Because I'm stubborn, I've spent the past three days trying to find out why Beat to Quarters and Ship of the Line aren't available on Kindle. I've figured it out.

All of the current Kindle editions are published by eNet Press. I'd never heard of them before seeing that Amazon listed them as the publisher. Their site tells me that they "specialize in publishing ebooks from the works of classic best selling authors of the 20th century".

I searched their site and they have a listing for Beat to Quarters.

Due to Copyright issues, this book is not available as a separate volume. However it is available in our three volume omnibus Captain Horatio Hornblower.

The omnibus includes Beat to Quarters, Ship of the Line, and Flying Colours. I can buy the omnibus directly from eNet Press, but I'd prefer to buy it from Amazon. It's not listed on Amazon's site. I asked eNet Press about that. They told me that it's their policy to only sell some of their books on Amazon. The omnibuses are deliberately being held back as direct sale exclusives.

I'm happy to learn that I can buy books 1–5 and 9–11 as single volumes and that I can buy 6–8, even if only as an omnibus.

I like the convenience of having all of my books directly in my Kindle library, so I'm disappointed that I can't buy Captain Horatio Hornblower through Amazon. I'll buy it directly from eNet Press, when I'm ready to read it. If they ever do decide to sell it on Amazon, I may buy it again, for the convenience of having everything in one place.

I had some feedback for eNet Press. I'm skeptical about their strategy of having direct sale exclusives. Over the past couple of years, I've done multiple Google searches for variations of "hornblower kindle edition" or "hornblower ebook" and their collection of Hornblower books has never once come up in my search results.

I didn't find them until after I first found their books on Amazon. Then I realized that I should check who published the books, to see if I could get more information directly from them. I think it's quite possible that they're losing sales by keeping things hidden away on their own site. It may be that they're making more per copy by selling it directly (since they don't have to pay fees to Amazon), but they may be losing money overall by selling fewer copies.

This entry was tagged. Reading Ideas

Time to Buy Horatio Hornblower for my Kindle

I read C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series many, many years ago, when I was but a lad. I loved them. I was captivated by the descriptions of life at sea, of the Napoleonic era, of Hornblower's mannerisms and insecurities, and by the action itself. They fired my imagination for a long time and I still have a fascination with old sailing ships, that's rooted in those books. (Sadly, I don't have the stomach for actual sailing.)

I've wanted to reread these books for the past several years. Since I seem to be incapable of reading paper books anymore, I've been looking for Kindle copies of the books. Surprisingly, the Kindle editions that existed were only available for sale in the U.K. or in Australia. Neither option did me a bit of good.

Last night, I did another check of Amazon and was happily surprised to see that most of the Horatio Hornblower series is now available on Kindle. I can buy everything that's currently out for $70. Somehow, that seems like a really good use of my money right. Now.

  1. Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, $7.99
  2. Lieutenant Hornblower, $7.99
  3. Hornblower and the Hotspur, $8.99
  4. Hornblower During the Crisis, $4.99
  5. Hornblower and the Atropos, $7.99
  6. Beat to Quarters
  7. Ship of the Line
  8. Flying Colours, $7.99
  9. Commodore Hornblower, $7.99
  10. Lord Hornblower, $7.99
  11. Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies, $7.99

I don't know what's up with Beat to Quarters and Ship of the Line. Beat to Quarters doesn't have a Kindle version at all. Ship of the Line has a Kindle version, but it's not available in the U.S. I hope that gets resolved post-haste.

This entry was tagged. Reading Ideas

Reading Idea: The Traitor Baru Cormorant

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

$12.99 on Kindle

Seth Dickinson explained the conceit of his novel, on Scalzi's blog. I'm a sucker for subverting expectations this way.

“My master plan would’ve changed the course of history! I put my life into this — I leveraged politicians, I conjured up shell corporations, I put puppets on every throne and agents in every council. I built something! I had a vision!

And they call you a hero. What did you do? You stumbled in at the last moment and broke everything.

If heroism means standing up for the status quo, then I’ll have no part of it. The world’s full of suffering. Someone must act.”

“The Traitor Baru Cormorant is the story of a young woman trying to tear down a colonial empire, avenge her fathers, and liberate her home. The Masquerade wants to rule the world, so that they can fix it. Baru can’t beat them from the outside, killing them one by one with a sword the way Luke Skywalker or Aragorn might — unlike most evil empires, they’re smart people who take sensible precautions. Baru wouldn’t stand a chance against a single Masquerade marine.

Being surpassingly clever and excitingly ruthless, Baru decides to destroy the Masquerade from the inside. She’ll join their civil service, prove herself as a really awesome operative, and secure enough power to get what she wants. (She thinks Luke should do the same thing.)

Baru will, in short, become an evil overlord: a brilliant superspy plotting triple-cross operations right under the noses of her masters, conspiring to topple nations with banking schemes, daring heists, ornamental men, secret alliances, private armies, napalm, pirates, and the occasional sword duel, when absolutely necessary. An evil overlord working for good!”

Reading Idea: A Summer for the Gods

$9.99 on Kindle

How much do you know about the notorious Scopes trial? Glenn Reynolds says that whatever it is, it's probably wrong.

TODAY IS THE 90TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SCOPES TRIAL. Let me just note that what you think you know about it is probably wrong — especially if what you think you know about it comes from watching Inherit The Wind. I highly recommend Ed Larson’s excellent treatment, A Summer For The Gods.

What's the book about?

If you haven't seen the film version of Inherit the Wind, you might have read it in high school. And even people who have never heard of either the movie or the play probably know something about the events that inspired them: The 1925 Scopes "monkey trial," during which Darwin's theory of evolution was essentially put on trial before the nation. Inherit the Wind paints a romantic picture of John Scopes as a principled biology teacher driven to present scientific theory to his students, even in the teeth of a Tennessee state law prohibiting the teaching of anything other than creationism. The truth, it turns out, was something quite different.

In his fascinating history of the Scopes trial, Summer for the Gods, Edward J. Larson makes it abundantly clear that Truth and the Purity of Science had very little to do with the Scopes case. Tennessee had passed a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, and the American Civil Liberties Union responded by advertising statewide for a high-school teacher willing to defy the law. Communities all across Tennessee saw an opportunity to put themselves on the map by hosting such a controversial trial, but it was the town of Dayton that came up with a sacrificial victim: John Scopes, a man who knew little about evolution and wasn't even the class's regular teacher. Chosen by the city fathers, Scopes obligingly broke the law and was carted off to jail to await trial.

What happened next was a bizarre mix of theatrics and law, enacted by William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense. Though Darrow lost the trial, he made his point--and his career--by calling Bryan, a noted Bible expert, as a witness for the defense. Summer for the Gods is a remarkable retelling of the trial and the events leading up to it, proof positive that truth is stranger than science.

Reading Idea: The Library at Mount Char

$10.99 on Kindle

Here's the hook: apprentice librarians, practically living in a magical library, learning lots and of powerful magic. How would that change you? Here's how author Scott Hawkins describes his novel.

Along those same lines, what if the guy you room with has, through diligent study of his corner of the magic library, become the most dangerous person alive? He’s invulnerable-ish. Maybe he’s not quite at the Superman level, but he’s more than a match for, say, a battalion of infantry with artillery and air support. Your roommate is the absolute pinnacle of the Earthly food chain, and he just drank your last beer. Again.

Maybe when you first moved in together he was nice enough—or not. But over time, the knowledge that he’s completely immune to any sort of discipline has had an impact on his manners. He never vacuums. There are dishes in the sink. The last time he stole your beer you left him a polite note. He broke your arm. Your buddy who resurrects people fixed it—you got her a pint of Haagen-Dazs the last time you bought groceries, so she didn’t even keep you waiting for long–but it still smarted like a sonofagun.

Do you leave another note? Or just suck it up and go to bed?

…What if you decided you wanted out?

How would that even be possible? Even if you did escape after a lifetime in that environment, what would normal people seem like to you?

What would you seem like to them?

…Still, even with their access strictly controlled, these librarians learn some interesting stuff. One guy talks to animals. Another spends weekends commuting to the twenty-third millennium to go clubbing with friends. There’s a woman who keeps a spy army of ghost children, invisible to anyone but her.

Unless you’ve got the soul of a Peter Parker, just living in the vicinity of that kind of power would affect your personality.

The hook and description caught my interest. The editorial reviews solidified it.

“A spellbinding story of world-altering power and revenge…Hawkins has created a fascinating, unusual world in which ordinary people can learn to wield breathtaking power—and he's also written a compelling story about love and revenge that never loses sight of the human emotions at its heart. A wholly original, engrossing, disturbing, and beautiful book.”
Kirkus (starred)

“An extravagant, beautifully imagined fantasy about a universe that is both familiar and unfamiliar…Hawkins makes nary a misstep in this award-worthy effort of imagination. You won't be able to put it down.”
Booklist (starred)

"A bizarre yet utterly compelling debut...might remind readers of Robert Jackson Bennett's or Neil Gaiman's horror/fantasies.”
Library Journal (starred)

“A first-rate novel… a sprawling, epic contemporary fantasy about cruelty and the end of the world, compulsively readable, with the deep, resonant magic of a world where reality is up for grabs. Unputdownable.”
Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling author of Little Brother and Makers

"The most genuinely original fantasy I’ve ever read. Hawkins plays with really, really big ideas and does it with superb invention, deeply affecting characters, and a smashing climax I did not see coming."
—Nancy Kress, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of Beggars in Spain

“A pyrotechnic debut...The most terrifyingly psychopathic depiction of a family of gods and their abusive father since Genesis.”
Charles Stross, Hugo and Locus Award-winning author of Accelerando and The Apocalypse Codex

Reading Idea: Enter the Janitor

$4.99 on Kindle

Josh Vogt pitches his fantasy novel, over at Scalzi's site.

In Enter the Janitor, the Big Idea was that magic is actually hiding in plain sight. It’s evolved alongside humanity and taken on quite a different role than it used to hold. Rather than a religious function or mystic mumbo-jumbo, magic could be connected to our history of sanitation and hygiene. Think about how many little health rituals we practice every day; at the same time, keeping things clean is often done on auto-pilot, meaning we may miss very obvious clues that something supernatural might be in the works. How many commercials and ads treat cleaning tools and chemicals as literally magical implements? Animated soap bubbles…talking sponges…even the genie-like Mr. Clean.

Magic also could have become more of a corporate affair, staffed with janitors, plumbers, maids, and more who dedicate their lives to the craft, much like ancient wizards and mages and witches would’ve. Rather than saving the world from eldritch towers, they began to do so in plain sight, one clean window and one mopped floor at a time. They swapped out wands and staffs for squeegees and mops and spray bottles.

…The more I thought about this, the more I realized I needed to revel in exploring this ridiculous version of reality. And that’s when both the characters and the world they inhabited came fully to life in my mind. Janitor closets could be mystic portals. Garbage dumps could be repositories of power. Sewers could be…well…still sewers, but with stranger creatures slithering through them.

I think that's a very clever concept. I'm always suspicious of self-published works. (Was there something wrong with it, that a traditional publisher wouldn't grab it?) But this one has an interesting enough concept that I may give it a chance.

Reading Idea: The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century

$29 in paperback

Tyler Cowen references an interesting sounding book, in his Equine Markets in Everything post.

Circa the late nineteenth century, in urban America:

Even the wastes of horses were commodified.  The collection of urban manure had old, even ancient roots.  Again, the process is most easily documented in New York City.  Before 1878, individuals roamed the street and picked up manure.  In that year the Common Council supposedly sold an exclusive license to a William Hitchcock, who sold the street sweepings to farmers for fertilizer.  Street sweepings varied in quality and were worth more if from an asphalt street than if from a gravel street or a dirty alley.  They were always worth less than stable manure, a purer product.  The older pattern of individuals collecting street manure for urban gardens never fully went away, and as late as the first half of the twentieth century neighborhood children in the Italian American neighborhood of East Harlem did a thriving business collecting horse manure from the streets for backyard gardens in the area.

That is from Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr, The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century, an excellent book from 2007.  I am sorry it took me so long to discover this work.  It has wonderful sentences such as:

Stables rarely make it into the histories of the built environment, although they constituted a substantial part of that environment.

How can you go wrong with that?  There is a good economics on every page of this book.

Becoming Steve Jobs →

Cover photo for Becoming Steve Jobs

I just saw this book announced on Daring Fireball. This is the book that I wanted to read, when I read Walter Isaacson's dreadful biography of Steve Jobs.

A brilliantly reported, compellingly written book that overturns the conventional view of Steve Jobs—the Jobs that is frozen forever as half genius, half jerk—Becoming Steve Jobs answers the central question about the life and career of the Apple cofounder and CEO: How did a young man so reckless and arrogant that he was exiled from the company he founded become the most effective visionary business leader of our time? Drawing on extensive interviews with Jobs’s inner circle, family members, friends, and competitors, veteran journalists Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli present a portrait of Jobs that is far more nuanced and intimate than previous biographies.

It's $14.99 on Kindle and I already pre-ordered my copy. It'll be published in just 3 weeks—on March 24.

This entry was tagged. Apple Reading Ideas

Reading Idea: The Golem and the Jinni

Golem and Jinni covert art
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wicker.

$9.78 on Kindle

I found this book recommendation in an unlikely place: a Tools and Toys roundup of Helpful Gear for Winter Weather.

Not everything on our list is necessarily for outdoor use. You may end up stuck inside your house due to severe snow, and on those occasions, you should have something great to read.

Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni is a nice, meaty story that will hold your interest from start to finish and while away the long hours. It’s about a female golem (Chava) who is marooned in the city after her Polish-immigrant master dies at sea, and a male jinni (Ahmed) who is accidentally released from an ancient copper kettle by a Syrian tinsmith, only to find himself mysteriously trapped in human form. Each of them struggles, in their own respective ways, to adapt to American society — just as human immigrants would.

The unique mixture of Jewish and Arab mythologies, along with American history, is quite compelling. We found it hard to put the book down after starting it.

Good enough for a spot on the list of reading ideas.

This entry was tagged. Reading Ideas

Reclaiming Heinlein

Early last year, MetaFilter had a spirited discussion about SF. Various people were arguing about supposed Progressive bias in the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and whether an author like Robert Heinlein would even be welcome in SF today. Several people doubted that he could even win a Hugo today.

John Scalzi stepped in to say that not only could he still win, but that he would definitely win today. Scalzi essentially argues that today's SF field is broader than yesterday's. Yes, there are more Progressive voices. But authors are still writing stories in the Heinlein tradition, they still sell well, and they still get nominated for awards.

If we grant that a resurrected Heinlein would read the lay of the land, commerce-wise, could he win a Hugo today? Sure he could -- or at the very least could get nominated. Charlie Stross wrote a homage to late Heinlein called Saturn's Children which was nominated for a Hugo in 2009; its sequel Neptune's Brood is on the ballot this year. Robert J. Sawyer, who writes in a clear, Campbellian style, is a frequent Best Novel nominee, most recently for Wake, which has a clear antecedent in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. James SA Corey rolled onto the Hugo Novel list in 2012 with Leviathan Wakes, which is solidly in the Golden Age traditon, updated for today's audiences. And I can think of at least one recent Hugo award winner who has a thrice-Hugo-nominated military science fiction series, who has been explicitly compared to Heinlein all through his career. So could Heinlein win a Hugo? Hell yeah, he could -- and if he were as commercially smart today as he was back in the day, it wouldn't even be question of if, but when.