What are you reading?

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SadisticCynic
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Re: What are you reading?

Postby SadisticCynic » 26 Mar 2018 14:27

Yes that's the one; I haven't read the vampire one yet.

I'm not sure exactly, but I was much more emotionally attached to the characters and their situations in the other novels. This one lacked the future evolution of humanity/exploration of non-hierarchical society aspect that really appealed to me in Xenogenesis and Earthseed. The Patternmaster novels had the really explicit master/slave dynamics going on as well, but it was a more interesting exploration than horrible people doing horrible things since the people involved basically couldn't help but be in a master/slave situation. It was directly in their nature.

That's not to say I didn't get a lot out of Kindred, I think I just enjoy more the themes of the other novels.


On a separate note, related to your comment in another thread regarding no good modern sci-fi writing, have you read anything by Jeff VanderMeer? I watched the recent Annihilation movie, based on one of his novels and really loved it. Then I found the novel was written in 2014, which is quite recent.
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Re: What are you reading?

Postby Omphalos » 27 Mar 2018 11:10

I haven't read any VanderMeer since his short story days, except for the Steam Punk Bible. As much as I dislike that particular aesthetic, I thought his non-fiction book on the movement was really well done. It went far beyond the literature that has been produced. It was more of a study of the cultural movement behind it. But steam punk as a literary movement turns me off.

You ever read any J.G. Ballard? Not really 100% sure what Annihilation is about, but from the ads I gather that its about some unexplainable weirdness that physically stretches across the world, and changes things as it advances. Ballard wrote about stuff like that a lot.

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Re: What are you reading?

Postby SadisticCynic » 27 Mar 2018 14:58

No I haven't read any Ballard actually. His bibliography seems quite extensive. Are there a particular few that stand out or are good to start with? They don't need to follow the characteristics we just mentioned either.
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Re: What are you reading?

Postby Cpt. Aramsham » 27 Mar 2018 18:41

SadisticCynic wrote:No I haven't read any Ballard actually. His bibliography seems quite extensive. Are there a particular few that stand out or are good to start with? They don't need to follow the characteristics we just mentioned either.


Ballard is hard to sum up, because although there are some very clear common motifs and thematic threads running through pretty much all his books, he wrote in some quite distinct modes. You have...

- stuff that is comparatively traditional science fiction – albeit with a dreamlike, surreal bent (e.g. The Drowned World, The Crystal World, a lot of his short stories)
- intensely strange fables about the breakdown of modern society or the individual (e.g. Crash, Concrete Island, High Rise)
- experimental avant garde work (e.g. The Atrocity Exhibition)
- some almost Stephen King-esque chillers (mostly shorts)
- a bunch of books about how alienation drives seemingly "normal people" to murder and terrorism (e.g. Running Wild, Kingdom Come)
- and another bunch that read vaguely like investigative thrillers in sexy locales (e.g. Cocaine Nights, Super-Cannes)
- ... and then there's his autobiographically inspired WWII novel Empire of the Sun, by far his most mainstream and best-selling novel

So different people have different favorites. I would personally pick The Drowned World, Crash and Empire of the Sun, but I could totally see someone naming High Rise or Cocaine Nights, for example. There are some definite duds in each period as well: steer well clear of The Wind from Nowhere, Hello America and The Kindness of Women. A lot of the experimental stuff (such as "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan") has lost most of its relevance, and retains mainly historical interest.

I'd actually recommend starting with some of his short stories. Of the various collections, Chronopolis is very good (and more consistently sci-fi than some of the others), but it's hard to really go wrong... though I probably wouldn't start with Low-Flying Aircraft.

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Re: What are you reading?

Postby Omphalos » 28 Mar 2018 09:14

He's considered dystopian, but he is on the periphery of that group. I also place him in the category of British "cozy catastrophe" writers, but again, way on the outside, far from center. I like to contrast him with Wyndham.

Empire of the Sun is a great book, and an even greater movie.

I really only recommend his "destroyed world" books, and to a lesser extent the books that came later that were about techno-paranoia.

the destroyed world books are the first four, The Wind from Nowhere, The Drowned World, The Crystal World, and The Burning World. The Drowned World is probably the most accessible of those books for someone from the UK. the Crystal World is IMHO the best.

The techno-paranoia stuff includes Crash, High-Rise, and a few others. They are weird.

Atrocity Exhibition is a decent collection. There was one in there about ass-fucking Ronald Reagan, IIRC. but again, weird.

I like Ballard, but I probably would not have picked anything up had it not been for that Spielberg movie of Empire of the Sun. Lots of people have different thoughts about his work, which I take to mean that its pretty opaque stuff. I think that the first set of books is about people evolving mentally to thrive in hostile worlds. The second set is about those worlds killing folks, but to be honest, most folks in his books wind up dead anyway. So I suppose he's all about dealing with cognitive dissonance.

Someone just made a movie of High-Rise a few years ago. it is truly bizarre.

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Re: What are you reading?

Postby georgiedenbro » 28 Mar 2018 09:49

Omphalos wrote:Someone just made a movie of High-Rise a few years ago. it is truly bizarre.


Did anyone see this, by any chance? I had been wanting to but then heard mixed things about it so I skipped it in the cinema.
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Re: What are you reading?

Postby Cpt. Aramsham » 29 Mar 2018 01:57

I disagree with quite a lot of that. I guess that should be no surprise, since there are a lot of different facets to Ballard, and ways to appreciate him. :)

Omphalos wrote:He's considered dystopian, but he is on the periphery of that group. I also place him in the category of British "cozy catastrophe" writers, but again, way on the outside, far from center. I like to contrast him with Wyndham.

Yeah, I'd definitely see him more as a contrast to that group than as a member. (Brian Aldiss, who coined it as a dismissive term, was closely associated with the same literary group as Ballard, as well as a close friend, though the two apparently had a falling-out.) What makes the catastrophe cozy is that it's an opportunity for heroically masculine figures to step forth and reaffirm traditional virtues. Ballard's characters do not as a rule do that – they usually don't even try.

Empire of the Sun is a great book, and an even greater movie.

See, I'd say that the movie is fine, but the book is a true classic.

I really only recommend his "destroyed world" books, and to a lesser extent the books that came later that were about techno-paranoia.

the destroyed world books are the first four, The Wind from Nowhere, The Drowned World, The Crystal World, and The Burning World. The Drowned World is probably the most accessible of those books for someone from the UK. the Crystal World is IMHO the best.

I agree that The Drowned World and perhaps particularly The Crystal World are the best, and I'd go further to say the other two are not very good. (Ballard outright disowned The Wind from Nowhere and refused to have it reprinted.)

The techno-paranoia stuff includes Crash, High-Rise, and a few others. They are weird.

They are, but then again all of Ballard's books are weird, to a greater or lesser extent. And I think they're not really about technology or even really paranoia: they are about society and what it does to us psychologically – alienation, if you will. Technology – motorways, tower blocks, cinema screens – stand as signifiers of the modern way of life more than as dangers in themselves (except in the acknowledgment that cars are in fact much more dangerous than we like to be reminded of). Plus, the books are not in any way impenetrable. In fact, they're pretty funny, in a sick way: Concrete Island is Robinson Crusoe set on a traffic island, High Rise is Lord of the Flies in an apartment building, and so on. Crash feels almost akin to Lolita in its narrative games and study of predatory erotic fascination.

I think that the first set of books is about people evolving mentally to thrive in hostile worlds. The second set is about those worlds killing folks, but to be honest, most folks in his books wind up dead anyway. So I suppose he's all about dealing with cognitive dissonance.

I think if Philip K Dick's main recurring theme is paranoia, Ballard's is accepting madness and embracing destruction.

In summary, I definitely wouldn't restrict my recommendation to his earlier books. Empire of the Sun is the obvious counter-example, and I also think his follow-up, The Day of Creation, is good and somewhat underrated (even though quite accessible; Ballard was aware of his new mainstream audience, and it's fun to see him apply his obsessions inside a realistic framework). But most importantly: his short stories.

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Re: What are you reading?

Postby Omphalos » 29 Mar 2018 11:36

Cpt. Aramsham wrote:
I think that the first set of books is about people evolving mentally to thrive in hostile worlds. The second set is about those worlds killing folks, but to be honest, most folks in his books wind up dead anyway. So I suppose he's all about dealing with cognitive dissonance.

I think if Philip K Dick's main recurring theme is paranoia, Ballard's is accepting madness and embracing destruction.


Really good point, and I agree with it. It's also why I in my own head put this guy into the "cozy-catastrophe" category. If you look at Wyndham's books, they were about serious (even if sometimes silly) existential threats, but the British people, individually and as an institution, still thrived. In particular, they all exercised opportunities for personal growth, and they stayed who they were. In my mind the apporach was a little naïve. Those folks, no matter what, remained British folks. they never descended into tribal existences. the stiff upper lip and wot, still survived.

Ballard's approach is very different because culture and society both died, but the individuals who were driven to accept the changing environment all thrived, even if that same changing environment ultimately meant their death. Ballard was so good at it that the internal inconsistency of that notion kind of disappears. anyway, maybe not "cozy," but conceivably crafted in the vein of.

Cpt. Aramsham wrote:
The techno-paranoia stuff includes Crash, High-Rise, and a few others. They are weird.

They are, but then again all of Ballard's books are weird, to a greater or lesser extent. And I think they're not really about technology or even really paranoia: they are about society and what it does to us psychologically – alienation, if you will. Technology – motorways, tower blocks, cinema screens – stand as signifiers of the modern way of life more than as dangers in themselves (except in the acknowledgment that cars are in fact much more dangerous than we like to be reminded of). Plus, the books are not in any way impenetrable. In fact, they're pretty funny, in a sick way: Concrete Island is Robinson Crusoe set on a traffic island, High Rise is Lord of the Flies in an apartment building, and so on. Crash feels almost akin to Lolita in its narrative games and study of predatory erotic fascination.


Along the same lines as above, but I agree, at least to some extent. The meaning certainly does not jump off of the page in Ballard's work, and they are about a LOT more than rewrites of classic books. Personally I never cared for these later books as much as the first four, so I never really put a lot of thought into them. That said, I took technology to be less a cause and more a symbol of the real cause of pain, which is I think degradation of our ability to connect with others. Not sure if I thought that as I was reading the books, or if it was something that occurred to me later. Once I got into this guy years ago I read a few critics, and quite a few of them seem to think that Ballard wrote every book with his dead wife in mind. I certainly can see that, and if its true the earlier books were maybe a rage-filled punch at the world, while the later ones were more contemplative of the consequences of being a widower.

Cars though? Mmmmm. Cars were a symbol too. The point was to highlight the death-sex thing. Which itself was a symbol for pain and relief. It coulda been trains, but cars were weirder.

Anyway, I dunno. Those later books were a lot to analyze.

Cpt. Aramsham wrote:
Empire of the Sun is a great book, and an even greater movie.

See, I'd say that the movie is fine, but the book is a true classic.


I can certainly see that, but the movie was Spielberg when Spielberg was young, and good. However, I will say this: that one scene at the end where the P-51 Mustang blows by the guard tower on the runway? I saw that in the theater. I can still remember how the sound of that plane blowing by felt in my guts and chest. Its motor was growling in the most incredible way! I had never seen (or heard!) a sound effect like that in my life. I remember it to this day, it moved me so much. So there may be quite a bit of both nostalgia and awe behind my feelings on the merits of this movie.

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Re: What are you reading?

Postby Cpt. Aramsham » 31 Mar 2018 07:46

Omphalos wrote:Really good point, and I agree with it. It's also why I in my own head put this guy into the "cozy-catastrophe" category. If you look at Wyndham's books, they were about serious (even if sometimes silly) existential threats, but the British people, individually and as an institution, still thrived. In particular, they all exercised opportunities for personal growth, and they stayed who they were. In my mind the apporach was a little naïve. Those folks, no matter what, remained British folks. they never descended into tribal existences. the stiff upper lip and wot, still survived.

Ballard's approach is very different because culture and society both died, but the individuals who were driven to accept the changing environment all thrived, even if that same changing environment ultimately meant their death. Ballard was so good at it that the internal inconsistency of that notion kind of disappears. anyway, maybe not "cozy," but conceivably crafted in the vein of.

I agree, though I wonder about the extent to which Ballard actually ever really accepts the new, irrational perspectives his characters and narrators inhabit. He explores states of mind that would conventionally be considered insane, with an eye to understanding them from within – and does so very successfully, to the point where it's easy to imagine that he himself sees the world that way, or at least sympathizes with the view. (And naming the main character in Crash after himself doesn't exactly dispel that impression.) But of course, he was not insane (at least not most of the time), and when discussing his work he usually seemed pretty clear-eyed about his characters being mentally ill and this being unhealthy – though he would also insist e.g. that The Drowned World has a happy ending because the protagonist finally does what he really wants.

Along the same lines as above, but I agree, at least to some extent. The meaning certainly does not jump off of the page in Ballard's work, and they are about a LOT more than rewrites of classic books.

Absolutely, although Concrete Island in particular very clearly riffs on Robinson Crusoe throughout.

I can certainly see that, but the movie was Spielberg when Spielberg was young, and good. However, I will say this: that one scene at the end where the P-51 Mustang blows by the guard tower on the runway? I saw that in the theater. I can still remember how the sound of that plane blowing by felt in my guts and chest. Its motor was growling in the most incredible way! I had never seen (or heard!) a sound effect like that in my life. I remember it to this day, it moved me so much. So there may be quite a bit of both nostalgia and awe behind my feelings on the merits of this movie.

Yes, so much of our response to art is personal and depends on being properly receptive. I read the book before I saw the movie, and felt the external depiction, though skillfully done, didn't convey the internal impression the novel achieved. Perhaps I couldn't appreciate it and the film is great. In any case, I can vouch for the book.

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Re: What are you reading?

Postby distrans » 11 Apr 2018 19:36

has anyone read Gordon r Dickson's necromancer?

ive always rather liked it but never found any of his other works until several of them showed up at the used book store.

neither of the two i grabbed is anywhere near as good...


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