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The Great Books Of The Western World



  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Next up after ELANTRIS, which is keeping me guessing in the final chapters...

    WHY WE SLEEP by Matthew Walker. I'm expecting to feel like I'm being lectured with this one... I don't get enough sleep and I drink a lot of coffee.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    ELANTRIS is done.

    An impressive final third, with some great set piece action scenes.

    Regularly people criticise Sanderson for having books where "nothing happens". I mean, clearly not the case ... Stuff happens in all of them. It's only a question of when. There's a dedication to a slow build.

    A great retro stand alone novel.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Several chapters into WHY WE SLEEP by Matthew Walker. It's undoubtedly a readable, lucid book about the health benefits of sleep... It's a testament to how widely disseminated many of the ideas have become in recent years, however, in that there is little here that I wasn't more or less aware of already.

    Sleep adequately to soften painful memories, physically recover, ward off illness both mental and physical... Sleep inadequately and invite problems with all of these. Caffeine bad, melatonin and sleeping pills bad. That's about it really.

    What Walker does not (and in fairness cannot) address is the fact that I don't sleep 6 hours a night by choice. I'm in a ridiculously busy period of my life, the last ten years... Career on the up, young children at home, pushing the envelope in other regards too... There's no part of my lifestyle at the moment that lends itself to a restful 8 hours a night. I'm averaging 6 I suspect, which is better than a year ago. It's 1 hour off the 7 that Walker recommends as a bare minimum.

    From what I can tell he's not TRYING to make us all feel tremendous anxiety. In the foreword to his book he actually warns that if you're prone to worrying and not getting enough sleep then reading his book may not be the best idea...

    I don't doubt for a second he's right there's a chronic sleep deficit across the western world, and it's causing all kinds of problems. I don't doubt that it's related to our highly addictive screen technology, and the 24 hour news cycle. The nature of modern work probably doesn't help.

    What's the answer? Some kind of societal reset, I suspect, but I don't know what that looks like. If we had nothing better to do than sleep that might mean things were pretty messed up in other regards.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I read the comments in WHY WE SLEEP about caffeine and quickly flipped ahead to try to find the bit later on where he explains how to responsibly drink coffee, or otherwise mitigate its problematic effects. Sadly, there is no bit of that sort.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished WHY WE SLEEP last week, reading the second CULTURE novel, Iain M Banks' THE PLAYER OF GAMES.

    Still a peerless imagining of the future, I suspect some of the 'shock' of Banks' advantaged technology has been diluted compared to how these felt when they were read in the 90s - some of the concepts that were cutting edge then are more common in SF now - but they still hold up very well.

    The SF future is probably still the only place anarcho-communists can truly live out their fantasies. The Culture is an imagining of the future where there is a cornucopia of abundance enabling each citizen to be truly free, economically, socially and culturally. Banks is probably correct in admitting significant numbers will still be unhappy or feel a malaise, of course, and he wouldn't have much fodder for his books if this were not the case.

    If our future looks like the Culture then it's probably the best outcome imaginable, even there is still war with non Culture elements on a galactic scale.

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  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I forgot how cool the drones and ships are in the CULTURE novels.

    The ships are like big space-going whales, and I like the whimsical names.... Youthful Indiscretion... Flexible Demeanour... Unfortunate Evidence of Conflict.

    The drone names are more individual and fantasy-like, but what I like about them is the manner in which Banks was able to capture the sheer speed and potential power of future technology. So you have a drone the size of a paperback book, but it can travel around like a supersonic aircraft, and leave the orbit to join a ship in space. There's some horrifically violent scenes where small drones protect Culture humans, and basically move so fast they are invisible bludgeons, smashing through things faster than the eye can see, or projecting force fields that achieve the same effect.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    BACK IN MOTION by Stefi Cohen, a mostly theoretical book on back injury rehabilitation.

    Timely, as I have hurt my lower back / sacroiliac joint doing some ill-advised deadlifting earlier in the week.

    I'm old enough now not to catastrophise when these kinds of things crop up, but it's still demoralising.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished PLAYER OF GAMES.

    What a novel. It has a more traditional hero's journey than many of Banks' Culture novels. The protagonist, Gurgeh, is possibly the most flawed, relatable Culture citizen we meet in any of the books. In USE OF WEAPONS the way Banks was able to have a main character with similar vulnerabilities was, of course, to make them a non-Culture human mercenary.

    Superficially, CONSIDER PHLEBAS has a lot of big-screen cinematic style action, as does USE OF WEAPONS. USE OF WEAPONS has a clever unreliable narrator element and jaw-dropping twist at the end, of course. PLAYER OF GAMES has much less overt action and in hindsight in some ways it's the most straightforward tale among them... but it is nail bitingly tense at times.

    I'll have to revisit USE OF WEAPONS next, but I'm looking forward to tackling EXCESSION and LOOK TO WINDWARD again, I can't remember either very well. USE OF WEAPONS is, admittedly, seared into my brain, I think I've re-read this one more than any other Culture novel.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    God, USE OF WEAPONS was my favourite Culture novel when I was younger, now I find it a bit all over the place. Broken timelines, Zakalwe a lot less convincing as a character than teenage me found him, it's a bit so so compared to PLAYER OF GAMES or CONSIDER PHLEBAS.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    My reading is really stalled at the moment.

    It's ironic, but when I am reading a "difficult" book, like some of the books early in this thread, I usually have a good disciplined approach that sees me read whether I feel like it or not.

    When I'm reading something I really should want to read though, I often find I put it off until I'm in the mood, and if I'm busy then days and days can pass.

    For that reason, little progress on USE OF WEAPONS. Going to have to knuckle down.

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  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished USE OF WEAPONS.

    It's funny how time changes your perception of a book. For me, MIDDLEMARCH was unreadable in my late teens, now it is one of the finest novels I've read.

    USE OF WEAPONS used to be my favourite Banks CULTURE novel, but on the re-read it doesn't stand up as well as either CONSIDER PHLEBAS or PLAYER OF GAMES. The latter is a markedly stronger book, probably my favourite of Banks' now.

    What changed?

    Nothing, I guess... Other than me.

    The ending, the unreliable narrator reveal, just felt like a bit of a damp squib. It's not just that there was no shock value this time around, I think Banks just sort of fluffed it. Zakalwe has a breakdown, someone else tells the Culture who he really is, The End.

    I'm a chapter in Frank Herbert's DUNE, another re-read.

    It's been some time. Still holds up remarkably well. It doesn't feel like it was written by a man born in... 1920?

    It strikes me that one of the reasons the far-future setting of DUNE is so compelling is that it does feel alien the first time you're exposed to it. Now, some of its tropes have been stolen and re-engineered and there's an echo of familliarity because of that, but in the beginning... This was pristine futurism, shocking and weird, albeit it's a very capitalist future that's rooted in our history as a species.

    It does pull on deep themes of religion, politics and history, but I've love it if the writers of today could understand that in sketching a future, part of the reason Herbert succeeded so well was that he felt he did not have to leadenly link it to the social struggles of today, and make it a 'learning opportunity'. One can't help but feel that if a contemporary author were to have written DUNE, it would at least half concerned with race relations in the U.S, or the question of gender, or the Ukraine / Russia conflict. All valid topics to write about, but all of them dating the work instantly to present day.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Flying through DUNE, honestly I'd forgotten what a page-turner it is.

    It is a tiny, tiny bit dated, but not as much as "golden age" SF from the likes of Heinlein and Asimov.

  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 10,994 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Hermy

    It's funny how time changes your perception of a book.

    For me it's The Summer of Katya by Trevanian.

    Absolutely loved it in my teens (read it several times) but on revisiting it in my thirties it wasn't nearly so good.

    What changed? I discovered literary fiction and sadly a lot of what I used to read lost its appeal.

    Genealogy Forum Mod

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    As she has been in the news, arising out of efforts by an Oxford student society to prevent her speaking, I have began reading Dr Kathleen Stock's MATERIAL GIRLS: WHY REALITY MATTERS FOR FEMINISM.

    Stock is a gender critical feminist lesbian and analytical philosopher.

    If I was going to summarise MATERIAL GIRLS, it is that biological sex is immutable and that has important implications for women and girls in the context of the difference between gender and sex, and that transgender women should not expect to be afforded identical rights to biological women at all times.

    Joyce's TRANS is more readable but some may like the slightly more formal analysis that goes on here.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Most people are aware DUNE is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, SF novels of all time. They're less keen on Herbert's direct sequels, and I must admit when I read a few myself I got somewhat lost in them. Probably safe to say they are considered inferior to DUNE but they also have their quiet champions.

    In the noughties a huge amount of prequel novels were published, co-authored by a descendent of Herbert's along with another writer. They're billed as being based on Herbert's notes. I read half of one and then abandoned it.

    They vary in terms of plot, and are more a series of trilogies, but they deal with things alluded to in DUNE such as the use of 'thinking machines' / A.I by humans, and the disaster that led to. Mentats, effectively 'human computers' capable of machine-like computations, replaced the use of A.I.

    One of those prequel novels does contain an interesting snippet that I'd be curious to know if it comes from Herbert's notes directly.

    The main bad guy in DUNE, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, is obviously grossly obese, and famously gets around with parts of his great bulk suspended by anti gravity floats. He is described as moving like a dancer, at times, because of this.

    In the prequels it's stated that the reason he got so fat is that he raped a Bene Gesserit (A sort of sisterhood of advanced humans, engaged in a complex eugenics programme) and the rest of the sisterhood punished him by infecting him with a disease which slowed his metabolism.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,248 ✭✭✭ ILikeBoats

    I set myself a goal of reading Dune this year. I got to 65% and had to leave it. I couldn't justify spending more of my time on it as I just couldn't click with it. I don't know why, just wasn't for me, and I enjoy sci-fi a great deal.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Fair enough! I wasn't able to stay reading the sequel novels myself.

    Have you seen the Denis Villeneuve movie, what did you make of that, any better? If you liked that then at least you know it was just Herbert's style.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,248 ✭✭✭ ILikeBoats

    Yes, I enjoyed the film which I guess triggered the goal of reading the book. Might try again in 10 years!

  • Registered Users Posts: 884 ✭✭✭ laoisman11

    I'm on book 6 of the series, Villeneuve's depiction blew me away (have watched it 3 or 4 times) and I decided to throw myself into it. I've really enjoyed it so far, the level of detail, the imagination, the intricate nature of the relationships between different groups spread out over time, it really is quite an amazing piece of work. It's true that Dune stands out from the others, but I wonder is that the novelty of it, because I also particularly liked the Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. I did struggle a little with God Emperor of Dune though.

    I have all the prequels from his son, but not sure that I will have the energy from them right now.

    (I've since watched David Lynch's version, and maybe it hasn't aged well, maybe Villeneuve set the bar too high, but I thought that it missed out on many key elements of the story).

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    There was also a Syfy channel mini series with Patrick Stewart, adapting some of the sequels. Looks very dated now, moreso than Lynch's Dune in some ways.

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