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 Post subject: Pompous literary discussion?
PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2007 9:16 pm 
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Read anything good lately anyone?
I had linked before in the blog to these short stories by Marc Laidlaw, Jane and Flight Risk, which seemed to be received well. There's also a whole lot of other stories available on scifi.com. Some are good, some not so good. I bookmarked the sight and have been reading stories from time to time. I think people here may like the stories by Gardner Dozois and Scott Westerfeld as well for example. (for some reason everything on that site loads slowly, so be patient.)
I also recently enjoyed reading a whole bunch of Sherlock Holmes short stories, which are also available for free online. By following links on his wikipedia page you can get most of them. A lot of his best are from "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes", and you can find links to the stories on it's wikipedia page.
Some people here had mentioned reading the books by Iain M. Banks, and I thought I might give his stuff a try at some point. Any recommendations for a starting point?


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2007 10:53 pm 
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I'm really, really liking David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, Ghostwrittten) and his post-structural post-genre stylings. It's so different to nearly everything else around at the moment it makes traditional novels look, well, a bit lightweight.

As well, I really like Umberto Eco, particularly when he's in his postmodern deconstructionist mode - the way he tells a story and builds intruige and draws the reader in, only to pull it all apart again and remind us that the truth is generally far less complex than we might want to believe. Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose are really well worth reading; really hard going at times, but astonishingly well written and really, really rewarding.

And if you want your head really fucking with, get hold of The Invisibles graphic novels by Grant Morrison. They're an utterly insane mix of... well, everything. What if every conspiracy, religion, secret society, philosophy, weird science and bizarre belief you ever heard was true? That's the idea behind it. It's fucked up, but really good fun with it.

Personally, I don't much like Iain M. Banks. But I do very much like Iain Banks :) Dead Air was fun, and The Crow Road is a wonderful slice of journey-of-self-discovery storytelling. And Raw Spirit is pure dead brilliant for making you want to go out and spend far too much money on scotch. I recommend the Talisker 18yr, for what it's worth.

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2007 11:53 pm 
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I've been rereading Borges' 'Ficciones' this week. Fans of Eco would like Borges very much, I imagine ('The Name of the Rose' incorporates several typically Borgesian tropes - labyrinths, libraries and mirrors - and having a blind character named Jorge of Burgos certainly indicates a direct homage).

Other literary obsessions include Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Ligotti, Mark Danielewski and Jeff Vandermeer (particularly 'City of Saints and Madmen', which is a beautiful little masterpiece. With squid.)


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 14, 2007 1:43 am 
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Well I seem to have been severely out-literaried here haven't I? My little alien short stories and mysteries seem rather prosaic now. :( Heh. I've got a copy of The Brothers Karamazov sitting on top of my pile of things to read when I feel like something a little more, eh, weighty. The sheer mass of the thing has kept me away for quite some time now though, so perhaps I should just move it aside. As I indicated above I've read mostly short stories lately, it is nice to have these bite-sized stories when you're not looking to start something serious.
Oh, and "postmodern deconstructionist mode", "post-structural post-genre stylings"?! My goodness parm, I don't know what these mean, but if I'm to assume they're not gibberish, your, erm, erudition (ha ha, check me out!) is indeed imposing.
Anyway, of what you guys mentioned David Mitchell seems the most interesting to me now. Maybe I should replace Dostoevsky with Ghostwritten on top of my dust-pile? Is that the best one to start with?

(And I've tried a number of times to make myself become a connoisseur of whiskey/scotch but despite my best efforts I've basically failed to get past the face-puckering stage.)


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 14, 2007 10:05 am 
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Ace wrote:
=
Oh, and "postmodern deconstructionist mode", "post-structural post-genre stylings"?! My goodness parm, I don't know what these mean, but if I'm to assume they're not gibberish, your, erm, erudition (ha ha, check me out!) is indeed imposing.


Hey, you titled the thread "Pompous literary discussion" >:)

By "postmodern deconstructionist", I mean that he likes to destroy the idea that there is a meta-narrative. In The Name of The Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, there's an overarching theme of something bigger going on behind the scenes, pulling the strings and telling the story. In the event, this is exposed to be nothing but a construction that the characters in the novel have created themselves - they've fit their own interpretation on top of events, which fits with the postmodernist idea of truth being relative to the observer - "this is my truth, tell me yours", that kind of idea. Foucault's Pendulum is particularly clever for this because it reads a bit like a highly literary Dan Brown book to start with, except whereas Dan Brown clearly believes in his conspiracies, Eco has a far more rational take on things.

By "post-structural post-genre", I mean that David Mitchell tends not to write his books the way you'd typically expect a novel to work. Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, for example, are both effectively interlinked sets of short stories, rather than a novel, but the stories themselves are often wildly different in their style and setting, despite their common threads. Cloud Atlas is better than Ghostwritten, and is probably his best book, but they're both worth reading. Number9dream is a more conventional story, but your notion of what is real and what is not are rather subverted; it's not always immediately apparent what is actually happening and what is a construct inside the character's head. Also, each chapter is written in a different style, and it's not always immediately apparent how they link together (although conclusion-wise, number9dream is much more straightforward than Ghostwritten or Cloud Atlas). I've got Black Swan Green on my reading pile at the moment, which I'm led to believe is far more straightforward a novel than anything he's done before.

Quote:
Anyway, of what you guys mentioned David Mitchell seems the most interesting to me now. Maybe I should replace Dostoevsky with Ghostwritten on top of my dust-pile? Is that the best one to start with?


David Mitchell would definitely be good for a sci-fi/fantasy buff. "An Orison of Somni" from Cloud Atlas is a brilliant piece of sci-fi on its own and his novels always have clear elements of the fantastical. I'd start with Cloud Atlas and then move on to the others.

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(And I've tried a number of times to make myself become a connoisseur of whiskey/scotch but despite my best efforts I've basically failed to get past the face-puckering stage.)


Pfft, you've just been drinking bad whisky. Take a good single malt, pour a dram into a tumbler, inhale deeply, then take a small sip, hold it at the front of your mouth, breath air through it and let the aromas swirl around your head, then allow the flavour to fill your mouth. After swallowing, don't immediately take another sip but let the aftertaste come through. Don't serve it with ice. Don't serve it with coke. Add water if you really must, but scotch is best served at room temperature or slightly above, straight up, and it is one of lifes greatest pleasures.

jkh wrote:
I've been rereading Borges' 'Ficciones' this week. Fans of Eco would like Borges very much, I imagine ('The Name of the Rose' incorporates several typically Borgesian tropes - labyrinths, libraries and mirrors - and having a blind character named Jorge of Burgos certainly indicates a direct homage).


*takes notes* Sounds good to me.

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 14, 2007 10:22 pm 
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Damn you parm. In order to keep up I tried to read the wikipedia entry on deconstructionism . I learned there that
Quote:
Deconstruction exists in the interval between constructions and undeconstructibility
eh, between what and what?
Quote:
When asked "What is deconstruction?": Derrida stated, "I have no simple and formalisable response to this question. All my essays are attempts to have it out with this formidable question".
Goddammit. I finally gave up hope when I got here:
Quote:
Part of the difficulty in defining deconstruction arises from the fact that deconstruction cannot escape itself. The word is subject to the linguistic limitations and effects which it purports in its own definition.
I can't even understand the reason I can't understand what's going on. Who the fuck writes this stuff? I decided it was time to be a "critic" of deconstruction, until I came across this
Quote:
Critics of deconstruction take issue with what they characterize as empty obscurantism
I don't know what the fuck obscurantism is, much less empty obscurantism, and I was scared to click on its link. By the time I got to a discussion of "phallogocentrism" I knew it was time to stop even though I was still only a third of the way through that mammoth pile of crap.

In conclusion: goddammit.

If I may paraphrase: You liked the writing? It was good? Alrighty then.

Actually in all seriousness, I will give David Mitchell a try, and then maybe I'll be better prepared to give a response more befitting the title of this thread.

Anyhow.....your elaborate technique for drinking scotch reminds me of the Russian technique for drinking vodka, except it's almost exactly backwards, since the idea there is not to taste it at all. There you exhaled before drinking, swallow the whole shot as quickly as possible, and immediately smell something else. Anything else. And if possible drink something else. (Oh, and promptly refill the glass.) (It may not qualify as one of life's great pleasures, but it is a splendid, and rather dangerous, way to get schnockered real quick.)


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 14, 2007 10:48 pm 
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Quote:
Anyhow.....your elaborate technique for drinking scotch reminds me of the Russian technique for drinking vodka, except it's almost exactly backwards, since the idea there is not to taste it at all. There you exhaled before drinking, swallow the whole shot as quickly as possible, and immediately smell something else. Anything else. And if possible drink something else. (Oh, and promptly refill the glass.) (It may not qualify as one of life's great pleasures, but it is a splendid, and rather dangerous, way to get schnockered real quick.)


I have drunk vodka with russians. And I have suffered the inevitable consequences, one of which is that I can no longer eat pickles without feeling ill.

(your analysis of deconstruction, mind, is rather succint and quite accurate :)

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 15, 2007 12:53 am 
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That method of drinking vodka reminds me of Xykon's philosophy on drinking coffee, which goes something like this:

When you drink a great cup of coffee you savour it as much as possible. You focus all your concentration on it. You try to immerse your mind in it's flavour, scent, warmth...

When you drink a really bad cup of coffee you compare it to ALL the great cups of coffee you've had. You try to smother it's horrid, thick, repulsive nature with the memory of every cup that was better than it. In this way, drinking a truly awful cup of coffee is a more enjoyable experience than any single cup of java could possibly be.

And yes I referenced Order of the Stick in the 'pompous literary discussions' thread!

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 21, 2007 11:04 pm 
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Well, I just read Ghostwritten. (sorry parm, wikipedia voted for Ghostwritten to start with, you voted for Cloud Atlas, I didn't decide till I got to the bookstore where the tiebreaker was that Ghostwritten is shorter! (bad reason, I know.) And the fact that it was his first book.)

Before I get into a couple comments on the book, I noticed one thing that seems relevant here: the book features a very powerful disembodied consciousness that resides in satellites, can gain access to essentially any digital data she needs, and uses a kill-o-zap satellite to destroy an underground installation that interferes with her privacy! Personality is rather different, but otherwise reminds me of a certain character familiar to us all here? Probably a coincidence but it did make me wonder if Adam had read this book.

Anyway, I liked Ghostwritten. It's definitely different, and has some very strong points, though I think to me it shows more promise than realization. Some of the sections were quite good, especially in the middle, with the Hong Kong finance lawyer, the rural Chinese lady, and the noncorporeal entity in Mongolia. But after that it flattened out quite a bit I thought. Here I thought the lack of a strong continuing plotline hurt it, since some of the next sections weren't too strong, and really didn't seem to advance what there was of an overall story at all. Actually the Mongolia section made for a nice conclusion on its own, and it's plotline seemed like a good way to connect all the stories more tightly. But it was in the middle of the book, and things drifted elsewhere from there. I felt like I lost direction. I was trying to read something into the connections between the stories, but couldn't see too much significance to most of them, plot-wise at least. Perhaps you could argue they make sense with the whole Buddhist underpinnings and themes. (oh, was I supposed to be able to make some logical sense out of why the comet kept appearing so prominently in the earlier stories?) (and ghosts?!? Am I just supposed to accept that as a sideplot without question?)
The around the world storytelling was definitely an interesting perspective. And the unusual structure, even within the individual sections, was interesting. I couldn't help but feel that it didn't quite all fit in the end though. The structure also of course puts a bit of a damper on in-depth character development, among other things. Anyway as I said the book shows definite promise, and being his first novel it definitely interests me in reading others. I'll read Cloud Atlas next, one of these days.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 22, 2007 2:14 pm 
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Ace wrote:
Anyway, I liked Ghostwritten. It's definitely different, and has some very strong points, though I think to me it shows more promise than realization. Some of the sections were quite good, especially in the middle, with the Hong Kong finance lawyer, the rural Chinese lady, and the noncorporeal entity in Mongolia. But after that it flattened out quite a bit I thought. Here I thought the lack of a strong continuing plotline hurt it, since some of the next sections weren't too strong, and really didn't seem to advance what there was of an overall story at all. Actually the Mongolia section made for a nice conclusion on its own, and it's plotline seemed like a good way to connect all the stories more tightly. But it was in the middle of the book, and things drifted elsewhere from there. I felt like I lost direction. I was trying to read something into the connections between the stories, but couldn't see too much significance to most of them, plot-wise at least. Perhaps you could argue they make sense with the whole Buddhist underpinnings and themes. (oh, was I supposed to be able to make some logical sense out of why the comet kept appearing so prominently in the earlier stories?) (and ghosts?!? Am I just supposed to accept that as a sideplot without question?)
The around the world storytelling was definitely an interesting perspective. And the unusual structure, even within the individual sections, was interesting. I couldn't help but feel that it didn't quite all fit in the end though. The structure also of course puts a bit of a damper on in-depth character development, among other things. Anyway as I said the book shows definite promise, and being his first novel it definitely interests me in reading others. I'll read Cloud Atlas next, one of these days.


I think I found Ghostwritten more approachable having read Cloud Atlas because I broadly knew what to expect - Cloud Atlas has a lot in common with it, but is generally (I think) better written; once you've got your head round what to expect, content-wise, Ghostwritten is easier to accept (ghost stories and seemingly-random connecting threads included) for what it is. Like I say, number9dream is a more "conventional" novel (and borrows quite heavily from Murakami's Norwegian Wood, which is also worth reading) but still contains elements of the fantastical.

I picked up a copy of Borge's Fictions, and I've only read a small amount so far but - blimey, it's a bit good. His non-fiction stuff looks interesting, too - maybe I'll ask for the collected works for Christmas :)

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2007 7:16 am 
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Makes sense. Well hopefully I'll be fully prepared to appreciate Cloud Atlas now. (I tend to be a fairly literal, logical minded fellow. I can handle ghosts, but it helps if I'm prepared for them!)

'Fictions' is a collection of short stories right? Hmm, might be interesting. Let us know what you think about it when you're done parm. (oh, and jkh too, I guess 'ficciones' is the same thing?)


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2007 11:20 pm 
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While I can't claim to be as pompous as Parm, I have dipped into a few books lately. Unfortunately my mind is not as clear and sharp as it once was, so I tend to roam the shelves of our house till something captures attention.

Most recently that was Douglas Coupland's 'The Gum Thief' and 'The End of Mr. Y' by Scarlett Thomas. The first is a quickly fading (though fond) memory, while the latter offers a unique view on a inconsistant and changing reality.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2007 7:20 pm 
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Any recommendations for Iain M. Banks? I'm interested in his Science fiction stuff, I've only read his fiction work so far.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 27, 2007 4:20 am 
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Rb. wrote:
Any recommendations for Iain M. Banks?

I just started on Player of Games myself, so that's all I can comment on. Wikipedia says that or Consider Phlebas (the first one) would be good places to start with The Culture novels. I definitely like it so far. It's not exactly dense literature but it is a lot of fun, if you're into that sort or thing. It reminds me of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, except that Banks has a better sense of humor. I mean anyone who can come up with spaceship names like these is clearly a science fiction author to be reckoned with.

And I don't know anything about Douglas Coupland or Scarlett Thomas so unfortunately I can't think of anything sufficiently pompous to say on that matter..


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2007 12:35 am 
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Anyone read "Altered Carbon"?


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