The Royal Library of Alexandria (SP Book Discussion)

Re-read Sorcerer’s House, or should I say listened, because this time in an effort to break myself of my distaste for audiobooks I did that. Great narration, great book. People complain about Wolfe’s “decline,” but they can’t all be New Sun, nor should they be. I enjoy some of the more intimate books dare I say even more. Nobody quite like Wolfe, and now there won’t be any more.

The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal. A meteor obliterates the US east coast in 1952 and a concerted space program begins a decade before Apollo, in the face of consequent global warming. One part enthusiastic what-if space nerdery, one part a hard reflection of 1950s society with all the teeth-clenching lil‘ lady sexism and automatic racism that implies. Entirely justified Hugo winner, about to read the sequel.


Fall, or Dodge in Hell, Neal Stephenson. I imagine the conception of this book to have been Stephenson reading a review of his earlier work which complained that he was all style and cool ideas, but was otherwise terrible. So he decided to write a book in which there’s a long middle section in which he apes the style of stodgy mythology books. A daring cautionary tale in the value of playing to one’s strengths, because the first third is cool him-being-himself, the middle third is kind of a boring slog, then the last bit is adequate.

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This second book is quite good as well. I look forward to the third.

Somewhat on theme is The Last Policeman series by Ben H. Winters. It’s a pre-apocalypse trilogy the examines life under the knowledge of an impending asteroid strike. The writing isn’t nearly as good but the story is engaging and themes are interesting. I enjoyed the series.


Stephenson still not found his way back to readability and storytelling then. Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and Anathem are some of my favourite (re-) reads. I read the Baroque Trrilogy once, was impressed, not going to pick it up again. And then Reamde and Seveneves … bored, bounced off, not buying another book unless well-reviewed.

An improvement on most of his books.

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Foundryside by Rabort Jackson Benort. Set in a fantasy world where objects can be programmed to defy reality and operate autonomously, and control of such knowledge is strictly controlled, a thief in the lawless slums is set a task: to steal something very valuable for someone powerful, ask no questions, don’t investigate any unusual occurrences, don’t get involved in any complex plots. It goes off with no complications and the book ends, which is a twist I didn’t see coming. It also means it’s a very short book.

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Thanks to @biffpow I’m reading The Affair of the Mysterious Letter and I absolutely love it. I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and worried this would simply be a fantasy imitation. It’s not. While it follows the beats of a Sherlock Holmes tale, Shaharazad Haas is infinitely more fun (and vulgar) than Doyle ever pictured Sherlock. I love the intertwining of the Lovecraftian universe that isn’t ever fully explained, only its insanity hinted at (constantly). It’s also really damn funny what with the prude Watson stand-in having to deal with the over-the-top obnoxious Haas and her constant vulgarities and lewdness.

It’s also a fairly long book, which is fantastic because I don’t want it to end. I’m only about 60% through it, but would already highly recommend it to anyone who likes Holmes, Lovecraft, or just plain weirdness.

I also read Magic for Liars and liked it quite a bit as well. Not nearly as much as the Mysterious Letter, but it had its charms. The main character grew a bit tedious with her moping about and boozing, but it all pulled together quite nicely in the end. Harry Potter for lovers of noir, basically. Would recommend, but read Mysterious Letter first.


Ok, I started Dark Matter and…oh, boy. The introduction to the protagonist is so fucking pretentious that I actively hate him. I’m also not sure I like the main premise thus far; that by having a kid their lives were ruined. She couldn’t be an artist anymore and he couldn’t possibly be a researcher with a kid at home? Oh, and being a teacher (which they both are) is the worst thing ever and only losers who don’t follow their dreams would end up in such a position.

Also, what’s with the pages of one sentence paragraphs? I get tempo, but ugh. This is my first attempt at Blake Crouch and I sure hope it gets better.


I had completely mentally erased how that book started. It is pretty awful.

The book gets (much) better once the real plot kicks in. And you are not really supposed to like the protagonist at the beginning (or at least, I assumed that was Crouch’s intent). I’m not sure I ever totally warmed up to the character, but he becomes more sympathetic as the book goes along. If you get halfway and still want the character to be pushed out an airlock, then I’d say you could abandon it.

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The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by Dalrymple. I had been jonesing for just such a book after playing John Company, and lo and behold, here we are. A dense tome, it charts J. Company’s rise from merely being one of the first corporations, to an international behemoth that shouldered aside nations, waged war, employed armies, and brought down governments, while being answerable to no-one and almost impossible to reign in. The consequences were terrible even in a place subjugated by imperial rule before the British ever arrived.

Finished Magic for Liars this morning and started on Seth’s Clyde Fans.

Magic for Liars was entertaining despite becoming a bit predictable in places. Well worth a read and more is written, I’ll be there.

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Finished Recursion a few nights ago and really liked it a lot. I agree with others here that it’s better than his previous novel, the pacing was excellent, and I liked the ending as well. That said, I do think Crouch still struggles a little with making his characters consistent (as in “would Character X really do that?”). There were moments in this where I sort of doubted a certain character would act a certain way. But it was a great book overall.

Finally reading Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire, which has been on my list a while now. It’s quite good and a nice mix of Very Serious with human and funny in places, as his best work often is. I recently learned that the second book in the series has been out for like a year, and I felt it was really time to get on this.

Has anyone read Middlegame by Seanan McGuire? It’s another that’s been on my list for a while, and I have it lined up to be next, but it’s quite long. I’m totally fine with long, but I want to have a sense that this will be worth the time investment.

I don’t understand McGuire’s reputation at all. Everything I’ve tried of hers has been dire.

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This is essentially my experience too, hence my reluctance in the face of the praise for this. Part of it is also set in Berkeley, where I live, so that was an added appeal. Oh well. I should just trust my instincts.

Finished Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire, then went right into the sequel, The Consuming Fire. Both were quite enjoyable, fast-paced, space opera-lite reads. I am assuming that there will be a third.

Now reading Ninth House by Leah Bardugo, which is very suitable for Halloween. Some nice horror with sacrificial spells, lots of ghosts, and people who may be able to turn into vicious animals. Takes a little to get started, but once it gets things in motion, it’s very strong so far.

Will likely also read some Lovecraft for the season, as is my usual habit.


November Road, Berney. Not much of a book. Well written in places, but largely a non-event.

The Way of the Strangers, Wood. A series of interviews with different people of different levels within the Islamic State. Interesting stuff, and no browbeating included.

Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea, Maher. A proper work of scholarship, even those who are no stranger to the subject will learn something. Probably should have read this before Way of the Strangers.

My new favorite first paragraph of a book may be this:


(From Goodstein’s “States of Matter”)


Based on that intro, the last paragraph of the book might be a real surprise…


Finally got around to reading N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, which @Neumannium wrote about a year ago, and … yeah, that was fantastic. Gonna start the second book ASAP.