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Books 4-12 - Chronicles of a Hereditary Geek [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Darth Paradox

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Books 4-12 [Mar. 12th, 2010|03:36 pm]
Darth Paradox
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Got some catching up to do, both on books and LJ writing in general. Maybe I'll get around to writing about our Olympics trip or my recent curling success sometime soon? Or not. We'll see.

#4: Dante's Inferno by Jill Jensen

Several people - a couple scientists, a reporter, a rabbi, and a black-ops military man - each try to track down the secrets of a Jewish physicist rumored to have disappeared from Auschwitz in a flash of light. Quantum physics and kabbalism get blended together into something that still seems reasonable, and the story's engaging even if something feels a bit off about it. Fun, though.

#5: Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

I like reading; I like writing. Sounds like a useful book, huh? And indeed it is, pulling out short excerpts from great works of literature and drilling down into the minutiae of how great authors apply their craft, from choices of individual words and construction of sentences up through broad topics of narrative and characterization. This book got me thinking about a lot of things, and I'm looking forward to applying them.

#6: The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

The Watch books are becoming my favorite; I certainly feel like Vimes is one of Pratchett's best-developed characters, and the plots he gets himself embroiled in are some of his best writing. Maybe I just like detective stories.

#7 and #8: Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

The theses of this book is pretty simple: that people's behavior is affected in interesting (and not always rational!) ways by the prospect of incentives, economic or otherwise, and that you can figure out a lot of interesting things just by willing to take a fresh, unbiased look at the data. The rest of both books is just one fascinating example of this principle after another...

#9: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin

A surprisingly slim volume, in defiance of the stereotypes of epic fantasy. I suppose it's worth considering as the first part of a larger epic; the book itself makes very clear that there are many deeds of the protagonist that come later in his life. The language is clear - its lack of adornment seems itself an affectation of the narrative style, but it certainly doesn't get in the way of the reading. LeGuin spares us any unnecessary detail to cut straight to the story.

#10: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson, book 1) by Rick Riordan

An adolescent boy discovers he has powers beyond those of normal humans, and gets whisked away from his miserable life to a secret place, magically hidden from the eyes of mundanes, where he can be with others who are similarly special and learn to use his abilities, before going on a quest (with his hapless male friend and intelligent female friend) to stop a force of great evil from getting its hands on an incredibly powerful artifact.

Sound familiar? Regardless of how blatantly obvious it is that the author is trying to cash in on the Harry Potter formula, it's still an entertaining story. The narrative is unsubtle - there's no doubt exactly how the text is supposed to be making a sympathetic reader feel at any given point - but there's enough hidden references and clues for a reader well-versed in Greek mythology to have a lot of fun.

#11: Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick

Implausible and fascinating. Seems like a pretty typical Dick novel; other than a general description of the premise (all the power on Earth is distributed by random lottery instead of political processes), I couldn't really do it justice here. If you like Dick's novels, read it; if you don't like his style you won't like this.

#12: The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

I can't remember which plot points are revealed outright and which would be too spoilery, so let me just say that Scalzi is really, really good at making his aliens strange enough to seem, well, alien - while still making them able to reasonably relate to humans. The plot is twisty and the political machinations are fun, and it's a pretty quick read besides. And the characters are fun. And... well, read it, I say.

[User Picture]From: firebluespinel
2010-03-13 02:23 am (UTC)
I absolutely agree with you on the Watch books. They're the only Pratchett I ever read anymore, lol. And Vimes is one of my favorite characters ever conceived and developed by anyone in any universe. He's just. So. Badass. (Up there with Caine, though not quite for the same reasons.) If you haven't read Night Watch and/or Thud! yet, I'd highly recommend them. :D
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[User Picture]From: kaitou_marina
2010-03-13 04:31 am (UTC)

My word, is that a Teal Deer!?

I do not get Percy Jackson at all. XD; I read a summary of it and spent the entire time boggling. If they're Greek gods, why aren't they living back in Greece? They have a perfectly lovely heavenly mountain to live on. Why would they live on top of the Empire State building noisy-ass New York city, forsaking their original culture to be absorbed by the American one? I couldn't get past that.

Then again, I'm into books for different things than other readers might be. Most notably, if something is supposed to be from another culture, I want to read about it in that country from that culture's perspective. I'm inundated by American culture every day, so usually when I consume media, I'm looking for something different. That's part of the reason I like anime and manga so much; I'm into them for their Japanese-ness. From my perspective, I'd expect a book about Greek gods to take place in Greece.

(Goofily enough, my younger self would not have said the same thing. If Percy Jackson had come out when I was in elementary or middle school, I probably would have thought it was the best shit ever. This taste is something that's developed with age.)

Also, sounds like the homosexual undercurrent of Greek myth is absent. Lame. Or am I wrong?

And that ends my incredibly long and useless comment.

EDIT: To clarify, I don't expect this from EVERY PIECE OF MEDIA I CONSUME. Obviously I like anime that take place in the U.S. (Kaleido Star, Chrno Crusade). It's just something that winds up being the deciding factor for me sometimes when I'm glancing around for something to entertain myself with. And obviously, such a nitpick wouldn't apply if the work was more global in general.

Augh, I don't think I explained myself very well. :/ I apologize.

Edited at 2010-03-13 04:37 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: darthparadox
2010-03-13 06:24 am (UTC)

Re: My word, is that a Teal Deer!?

The explanation for the Greek gods being in America is that they're actually the gods of Western civilization, which is now centered on America as opposed to Greece as it was in ancient times. It's a little Amerocentric, but seemed a perfectly plausible explanation to me, particularly from a myth-as-cultural-artifact point of view. I kinda like the idea of the same mythos reinstantiating itself into new contexts as circumstances require.

And the main thing I like about the one book of the series I've read is that the author puts a lot of effort into adhering to the Greek mythos - something which, by the way, the movie (which we just saw) fucked up completely. Sigh.

Also, no Greek homoeroticism so far. But then, keep in mind that the first book had all the main characters in the 12-14 age range or so; it'd be a little out of place at the moment.
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[User Picture]From: kaitou_marina
2010-03-14 02:56 am (UTC)

This comment contains a lot of rhetorical questions, er.

For my wild imagination, that's not necessarily a satisfactory answer. I haven't read the books of course (but I might now so that I can make more accurate crit) but the explanation only creates more questions for me. For example, are there gods for Eastern civilization then? What about southern continents such as Africa or South America or Australia? Are other god "groups" ever mentioned? I find it hard to believe that groups of gods (especially if one of them consists of the highly volatile "Greek" gods) could ignore each other.

If they're the gods of Western civilization, does that mean they were never ethnically Greek to begin with? Did they "migrate" to Greece then? If so, why retain their Greek names now that they have "migrated" away? They must have come through many other countries as the culture of the world "shifted," so why not go by the names of the country they currently reside in (such as when they were "adopted" by the Romans, which were then "equated" with Celtic gods)? For that matter, what happened to the native gods of North America? Were they conquered? Or is the author suggesting they never existed to begin with? To me, that's a rather uncomfortable idea.

As for the homosexuality: I didn't necessarily mean the new characters, but the gods and heroes themselves. There's plenty of instances of it, including but not limited to Hyacinth (lover of Apollo, whom he accidentally slew with a discus), Achilles had some intense male relationships, Ganymede (cup-bearer for and lover to Zeus) and even Narcissus (who wasn't just loved by Echo). Most of these relationships aren't even pornographic in the myths they came from, so there would have been no harm in including them. Anyway, it's not terribly important to the world at large, I just can't help picking at things that are heteronormalized. It's not that I have anything against heterosexuality (indeed, why would I?), it's just that it's nice to see some other representation once in a while (I can't even tell you how happy I was when Dumbledore turned out to be gay.)

... I think I miss being in school. I hope I'm not bugging you with my discussion bombardment, especially since I haven't read the book :/ I have nowhere else to channel this sort of thing these days.
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[User Picture]From: darthparadox
2010-03-14 08:42 pm (UTC)

Re: This comment contains a lot of rhetorical questions, er.

Other civilizations are... not really mentioned. The Greek society is widely considered to have been the genesis of Western civilization, so it may not have been necessary for them to migrate from elsewhere. But honestly, it's just a bit of handwaving on the part of the plot; it probably doesn't bear that much inspection.

Right now, the only mythic characters I've seen have been the young heroes and the gods themselves. So far there hasn't been much time spent on the relationships of the gods (except to the extent required to explain the existence of demigods, which necessitates a focus on heterosexual relationships). There was one scene where Ares was setting a trap for Aphrodite and her lover, but that's really about it. So... I still don't find it particularly strange that that portion of the Greek mythic tradition hasn't come up yet.
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[User Picture]From: nightsinger
2010-03-13 08:24 pm (UTC)

Re: My word, is that a Teal Deer!?

I have read them all. :) So I'll chime in with a bit more info that I will endeavour to make not-spoilery.

The general culture of the demigods and gods is a heavily Greecified American one, in terms of "flavour". Chris did a great job of explaining why they're in the US; it's NYC specifically because it's like the "heart" of American city culture, ish.

I don't really recall the homosexual undercurrent of the original mythos, tbh, so I wasn't looking for it in the Percy books. That said, the books were not terribly subtle; fun and enjoyable, but not subtle. Maybe I was just oblivious to such undercurrents the last time I read through the actual myths?
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[User Picture]From: kaitou_marina
2010-03-14 03:00 am (UTC)

Re: My word, is that a Teal Deer!?

I don't mind spoilers really, as I don't know if I'll ever even read the books, and in going to look up things about them, I've already spoiled myself about ten times over. XD I might though, if I'm going to go blathering on about them like this.

You can see my reply to Chris for the majority of my other wonderings, but as for homosexuality and Greek myth, I'll post the wiki links to get started:


There are some academic books out there that discuss the topic too, but I can't remember any of them right now. I'll see if I still have some of the ones from college, if you're interested?
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[User Picture]From: gmalivuk
2010-03-16 10:23 pm (UTC)
Yeah, likewise with really really liking Vimes, and also with especially liking him in Fifth Elephant. But I feel I do have to voice my love for Granny Weatherwax as well. I suspect that she and Vimes are the two characters Pratchett wrote himself into the most, which is why they're some of the most developed ones.
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