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-   -   What Are You Reading Right Now? (http://www.gamecritics.com/forums/showthread.php?t=13576)

shun 02-10-2008 11:45 PM

What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
I read Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe) and Foundation (Isaac Asimov) simultaneously, but I end up finishing Things Fall Apart a day earlier. The title should give you the clue that this is a fall-from-grace story, and it is. It details the life of Okonkwo, who, in enduring many hardships, rose to become a person of high rank. His ego was as massive as the respect his village people paid him, and he ruled his family with iron fist, often resorting to violence. He eventually fell, but Iíll let you find out what led to that. I enjoyed Things Fall Apart very much, particularly how it paints the norms and the traditions of Africa, and although some of Okonkwoís shortcomings leave a lot to be desired, I still find myself sympathetic to him. I also like Chinua Achebeís writing style: it is simple yet crisp, and despite the relatively low verbal proficiency the book required, it never sounded dumbed-down.

Foundation takes place 10,000 (some) years ahead of now. By the powers of math and psychology, Hari Seldon predicted that in 200 years the Galactic Empire would fall. So he gathered a few notable scientists and built the Foundation, so that he can mitigate the effects. To think that math and psychology can predict the future is to oversimplify theories of divinations, but whatever, I still think the idea is sound. Sadly, Iím indifferent to whatever the hell is going on with the Foundation, and thatís because of the plot and the writing. Basically, thereís more talking and yapping than any movement, itís like reading a boring dossier. It wouldnít be so bad if the characters were interesting. They werenít. Everyone was either the interchangeable manipulative intellectual powerhouse (Seldon/Hardin/Mallow) who always wins and who talks like he has rehearsed his every dialogue, or the also-interchangeable inept pseudo-intellectual "thinks heís the shrewd devil" cannon fodder who always loses and who also talks like heís rehearsed his every dialogue, except with more venom. And notice the choice of pronoun? Thatís right, there were almost no woman, as if a woman is insignificant in politics (a bizarre belief if, while reading foundation, youíre in a country where a woman perverts democracy). I also think that the wins were done in a very annoying way - what I call the "Knew Ex Machina", which is the "I KNEW THIS ALL ALONG HOHOHO!" plot device. The readers never couldíve learned beforehand how a person could possibly overcome an adversity, then it just happens and that person discourses a whole chapter about how awesome his wit is. Such cheap storytelling! The setting is also irrelevant: I donít know why this had to be in the future, because the description of such future was so sparse. It couldíve taken place now and the story wouldnít alter. Heck, Asimov could put a lolcat in there and it wonít matter (like, "V10L3NZ D LAST PWNAGE 4 INCOMPETANZ!"). I heard that the latter Foundation books are better. I sure hope so, because the first book is bust, despite the good premise.

So that wraps my post for today. Anyone read any good books lately? Want to make some recommendations? Want to comment on my opinions of Things Fall Apart and Foundation?

idiotic 02-11-2008 12:15 AM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
I'm re-reading Dianetics - it's made me the person who I am tomorrow.

Zanbatou 02-11-2008 01:16 AM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
I read a lot of children's books. I just finished A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Both were very, very good.

I also read Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I think I'm about ready to give up on that author. He's by far the most praised author ever among my group of friends, but I don't understand why. His books are enjoyable, but I don't get very much from them. I will still try the Sandman comics, though. Someday.


As far as real books go, I just finished Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and have started in on Emma.

And I'm about half way through A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. It's pretty funny and interesting, but after this I need to stop reading memoirs for at least a year.



Also.. I found a cool website called www.goodreads.com a few months ago. It's a social networking site based completely around books. I think its pretty fun. If anyone here signs up, let me know. I know there's a facebook plugin that pretty much offers the same functionality, but I think facebook is already cluttered enough.

Qikdraw 02-11-2008 02:21 AM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
I'm reading Dudley Pope's Ramage series. Nautical fiction in the 1700s. I'm playing Pirates of the Burning Sea, so it seems fitting. :)

Qikdraw

Brad Gallaway 02-11-2008 02:28 AM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
I really liked the concept of Psychohistory from Foundation, and overall i thought the books were interesting enough. it's definitely a product of its time, though... lots of books from the same era have a very similar stance and feel.

as for me, i fell back into games and stopped reading over the last week, but i did start whatever it was that Andrew Vachss wrote most recently... i lke his writing, but i'll be damned if i can recall what it was called or what it's about.... :cool:

idiotic 02-11-2008 02:35 AM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
Anybody read the Dune series?

What did you think of them as a whole, and what is Herbert trying to say or do with them?

I tried asking a variant of these questions elsewhere, and (surprisingly) got little response. I would have thought Herbert's novels call for a considered response - all I've encountered is inane fandom.
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0142032/board/nest/96488242

Brad Gallaway 02-11-2008 11:00 AM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
i read the first 5, the ones which were written by Herbert himself IIRC... i thought the first 3 were excellent, 3 especially, but 4 and 5 were sort of inane and the idea of someone else (son or not) keeping the series going posthumously is ludicrous, IMO.

what was he trying to say? i dunno... it's been years since i read them and i'd be out of my depth if i tried to do an in-depth examination without a re-read. sorry. = (

Avptallarita 02-11-2008 12:10 PM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by shun (Post 145538)
I read ... Foundation (Isaac Asimov) [MEGACUT]

Surprised by your reactions... I enjoyed Foundation a lot. I think it might just be a matter of taste, and if that's how you feel, you're unlikely to like the rest of Asimov very much. However, I'd still suggest you push through to the end of the original foundation trilogy. The third book is by far the best of them all. (There's something like other four books written in later years, but the only one which is somehow memorable is Forward the Foundation, and that's only because it's one of the few books Asimov ever wrote in which he allowed some real emotion to seep in. It's a very melancholic book, but it can't really be understood without reading at least Prelude to Foundation...)

But there's quite a few women in the other Foundation books, even though not that many in the original trilogy. Not to mention that one of the central human characters in the robot series is a woman, Susan Calvin.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Zanbatou (Post 145543)
And I'm about half way through A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. It's pretty funny and interesting, but after this I need to stop reading memoirs for at least a year.

MOST. BORING. BOOK. EVER.

Honestly, if Shun's taste is against Asimov, mine is against autobiographies of insignificant people. Eggers is just as much of a self-satisfactory wanker as, say, Joyce and Mann, but he's got none of their virtuosity to distract you a little from the boring story.

Really, if you're going to write the biography of your life, then at the very least go to war or in politics or something. (Remarque and Levi beat the shit out of all the above-named writers with his hands tied behind his back).

Quote:

Originally Posted by idiotic (Post 145547)
Anybody read the Dune series?

What did you think of them as a whole, and what is Herbert trying to say or do with them?

I read the first book... when I was about 13. I started giving it a second read in later times, and I was surprised by the low quality of the writing. Having read LotR in the meantime hadn't helped. I have a very fond memory of Dune, much more so than of Tolkien, but I can't remember for the life of me what it was he was trying to "say". Unless you're looking for an Islamist message or something. ;)

Chaos Wielder 02-11-2008 06:32 PM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by idiotic (Post 145547)
Anybody read the Dune series?

I've read the first. I found it generally interesting in that it focused on implications of events(and the implications of those, and so on) in its fake politics. It was refreshing, to an extent, to see that. Execution is a different matter.

Quote:

What did you think of them as a whole, and what is Herbert trying to say or do with them?
The first seemed like a (thinly) veiled attack on oil companies. I guess I have no quotes to back this up or anything, but that's what it seemed like to me(and I think this is why liberal nerds, at least where I'm from, are so enamored with it at the moment).

Personally, I hated the characterization of Vladimir Harkonnen. He seemed too simple a villain, and his sadistic (homo)sexual tendencies were odd. It's one thing to villify 'the powers that be', as Herbert seems fond of doing, but it was a stretch to me when I read it. If the book was trying to have 'real' points outside of it, which seems true enough, one could hope for better writing.

I blame Herbert for lightsabers.


And, um, I'm not really reading anything right now(other than college texts). A shame really.

shun 02-11-2008 07:43 PM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Chaos Wielder (Post 145589)
and I think this is why liberal nerds, at least where I'm from, are so enamored with it at the moment

Where are you from?

Avp, I won't say I hate everything Asimov has ever penned, because Foundation is actually the first (and so far the only) book of his that I've read. But yes, I thought the first book blew - I'm not a fan of stories with static characters, and I don't think of anyone from Foundation as particularly clever as he is fabricated. I think even Asimov will be surprised if anyone found the characters in his first book as multidimensional.

I'm reading Odyssey now.

Reharl 02-11-2008 07:44 PM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
I haven't been reading much. Voltaire's "Candide et autres contes" have occupied my mind, as has Saramago's "The Duplicate Man". When I wish for a break, I turn to the light Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. I have always had a soft spot for Arthurian drama.

Quote:

Originally Posted by idiotic (Post 145547)
Anybody read the Dune series? What did you think of them as a whole, and what is Herbert trying to say or do with them?

It's been a few years since I have read the six Dune books and I seemed to have enjoyed each of them differently. They may not be great masterpieces of literary narrative and style, but they are justly hailed for their imaginative scope and broad range of political, philosophical and religious questions raised. Ultimately, I can't venture a guess as to what the author's true intention was, nor can I ascribe to that particular intentional fallacy. I can leave you with some thoughts though. There be spoilers (evidently).

Dune is obviously constructed to serve as a commentary parallel to our own times. Most commentators do not miss the opportunity to point out that both water and melange take the place of today's world dependency on oil. The transports, religions, cults, they all desperately hinge on this precious spicy substance originating from a planet with no internal resources to harvest it. A planet so barren and intolerable that it values water as a commodity above everything else. And, like in today's geopolitical panorama, the tenants of these deceptively rich lands are in turn colonized, exploited, disregarded and eradicated.

This much is clear, but then Dune is also adorned and riddled with remarkable and striking personalities, great men, witches and aliens who accomplish deeds and villainies of differing importance. A common undercurrent may be found in their motivations, as they all believe their motions dictated by a superior motive, more often than not of a religious nature. Yet for all this religious protagonism, the gods are surprisingly absent in Dune.

The banishment of computers, an event not directly narrated in the books, serves as the departing point to the glorification and perfection of the earthly man. Just as the Roman Empire met a curious period during the waning ages of paganism but before Christianity, so does Dune and our days take place in an age where men exists only for himself, even if they believe their nature to be of relative divine origin. As would be expected, rulers and leaders wield this as a weapon, commanding masses in its name and building empires upon empty beliefs. The struggle for the spice, or the oil, cannot be undertaken based upon simple economical considerations; the Fremen eventually only march to war once they consider their actions a commandment of their faith.

In the heritage of western Christianity, the gods bestow the power of free will upon their lesser creations. Dune's protagonists may deem themselves divine, or the servants of supreme designs, yet they appear oddly oblivious to this dogma. Control is sought at all costs, either through enslavement (Gesserit and the Voice), genetic conditioning (Tleilaxu), religious fanaticism (Leto and the Fish Speakers) or sheer know-how dependence (Ixians). Spice itself is the central metaphor for this, as the Baron Harkonnen famously asserts.

The farce must be maintained, and thus all races, sects and creeds await a prophet or a messiah, one whom they wish can lead them to ages of untold prosperity and prod them from their apathetic slumber. The Bene Gesserit seek their Kwisatz Haderach through intensive breeding programs, the Fremen follow Muad'dib, even the Tleilaxu claim they have already met their messiah. But a prophet to which god or faith? It rarely seems to matter, for the protagonists aren't shy to invoke divine prerogatives or command their followers by means of otherworldly promises. This already blurred line becomes indistinct when Leto II proclaims himself the God Emperor of Dune. "I am the religion", he roars, but he might as well have claimed to be the State or the Sun as he plummeted to his death.

In fact, the only conclusive allusion to a definite higher power seems to come from the Arrakeen inhabitants, the Fremen, who vaguely worship a worm entity whom they call Shai-Hulud. A thin belief by which Leto secretly cannot abide. He fuses with the worm, and becomes the worm himself. Gifted with a life spanning millennia, he sees all. Decrying the internal focus on scarce resources, he announces the extinction of mankind at the same time he robes himself as the herald of its renewal. He trains fanatical followers, scatters them in space, and knows that one day they will wage terrible wars and spur the survival of the fittest.

So far this is all awfully descriptive. What's most striking about the series is the definition of Leto and the balance between power and religion. He isn't constructed as a divine messiah, but as a thoroughly human one. As he died, no sacrifice was taken for anyone's sins, but rather for the simple survival and progress of a species he renounced. His solution unravels a paradox of selfishness, manipulation and cruelty by which mankind's oldest dream is brought to fruition and a Tyrant and a Messiah exist as one. I suppose, in the end, Dune is the contrived story of a human that, considering himself divine, embarked upon a long journey to ensure no other supreme being could follow him. It's again the death of God at man's hands, but also what a man would desire should be be allowed to evolve to divinity.

His offspring then survive in all planets and produce the precious spice for all. Mankind ceases to depend upon a rarity and development may once again be resumed. Peace and unity by means of blind economical stability is not a novel concept. Dune ends with a hope: that it will be enough. Like us, not even Leto, the self-proclaimed god, could do more than to hope for it.

This is an interpretation. It's been years after all. I have no doubts that someone with your academic background could extract a more concrete meaning from the books, as well as contextualize the many references Herbert adores to dart around (should you be willing to concede the time investment). Like many others, I can't vouch for the quality of his writing, especially since his latter books quickly become a difficult mesh of his manneirisms and ramblings concerning primal sexual urges.

idiotic 02-11-2008 09:46 PM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
Thanks very much Chaos and Reharl - I think I was just stunned by the turn of developments (where the novel's main heroes - Paul and Leto - end up being anti heroes or worse than the people before them). It's pretty clear that Herbert was saying more than power corrupts too, and was tying the power cycle into a cycle of time and nature. From what I can tell, they're remarkable books and was struck by the backlash to the titles after the original Dune - Herbert seemed to be taking them in an entirely unwelcome but interesting direction. Particularly interesting was seeing its (relatively) sympathetic view of Islamic cultures and the role jihad plays in its moral universe.

David Stone 02-11-2008 10:13 PM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
(Re-)reading Catch 22. God, that book is great.

Avptallarita 02-12-2008 11:11 AM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by shun (Post 145593)
I'm reading Odyssey now.

Woo hoo! For some reason I'm really curious to hear the thoughts of an Asian on this seminal Western text. Please do share your thoughts as you go through, Shun.

Snack Eater 02-12-2008 12:35 PM

Re: What Are You Reading Right Now?
 
I'm taking a Modern American Lit class right now and for that I'm reading Lolita, Toni Morrison's Sula, and rereading The Crying Of Lot 49, along with a sampling of Beat poetry and assorted writings, Burroughs (big fan, Naked Lunch is a favorite of mine), Kerouac (is actually more difficult for me than Burroughs for some reason, maybe I'm just not totally into total realism in my prose), Ginsberg (class act). Prior to the start of the semester I was reading Against The Day and really don't want to leave that unfinished because since I read Gravity's Rainbow I've basically committed to reading everything Pynchon has written, and if I wimp out on this one I am a lazy coward and possibly a bitch. I intend to start reading Joyce very soon. Never got very far in Ulysses, but I do intend to read it over the summer, along with Dubliners and Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. I got about 15 pages into Finnegans Wake a couple months ago before getting nauseous, though I was nevertheless kind of enjoying it. The last book I got through was Blood Meridian, which wasn't consistently enjoyable, really, but effortlessly great and visceral and profound on a consistent basis nevertheless.


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