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I need book suggestions

by VM Brasseur on March 26th, 2008

I’ve been in a reading slump lately. It’s been, um, longer than I care to say since I actually completed a book that I started reading and if I recall correctly that book wasn’t even something I was reading for entertainment.

So here’s my question to you, the loyal FirstStep readers (both of you): What book would you suggest I read? I’m looking for mind candy here since I don’t want to think too much. We’re aiming for pure escapism. Sci-fi or fantasy would be perfect, but nothing that’s the “first in a vast epic series” sort of thing. Romance, western, mystery and true-crime are out of the running.

Yeah, I know. I’ve put a lot of qualifiers in there. Feel free to make the case for something which would break the rules but you’d still like to suggest.

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  1. Read The Baroque Cycle. Yes, it’s a vast epic. Read it anyway. At least it’s a finished epic of known length.

    If you really can’t face an undertaking of a few thousand pages (even if it is a few thousand pages of varied delights on almost every page), I can heartily recommend a few Vernor Vinge titles. A Fire Upon The Deep is “a rousing and thought-provoking adventure, and the only sci-fi story I’ve ever come across that feels truly galactic in scope” (as I’ve written elsewhere). I didn’t think he could top it, but where Fire Upon The Deep achieves jaw-dropping, heart-stopping goodness through adventure, fascinating science, and human drama, in that order, his sort-of-prequel A Deepness In the Sky achieves the same thing through human drama first (and adventure and science), and it’s a whole new kind of affecting.

    I also recently read The Peace War, which introduces the sci-fi idea of “bobbles” (which are like Larry Niven’s stasis fields), but really that whole novel is just exposition for its much better sequel, Marooned In Real Time, and you don’t lose much by skipping the former.

    Finally, if it’s really mind candy you’re after, and you don’t mind reading something that’s usually filed under “Mystery” in bookstores (even though it’s no more “mystery” than a James Bond adventure is), I recommend you give Leslie Charteris’ urban-swashbuckling “Saint” character a try, beginning with the very best of all Saint stories, The Saint Closes the Case (a.k.a. The Last Hero).

  2. Oh, I dunno about The Baroque Cycle. I’ve tried reading The Cryptonomicron and couldn’t bring myself to care about it past around page 200 or so. I’ve been very lukewarm on his stuff ever since. Thankfully I’d already read a lot of it before that point but it does mean that The Baroque Cycle is now caught in the fray and my desire to read it has been quelled therefore.

    Vinge’s work looks really great and worth my time/effort but I don’t think it’s what I’m looking for right now. This is intelligent literature rather than escapism. I don’t think I can bring my mind to commit to intelligent literature at the moment. Perhaps a few months down the line.

    The Charteris work is somewhat appealing to me but I keep flashing back to the Ian Fleming I read back in high school: action, women, action, cocktails, more action. Are The Saint books like that at all? If they are I’ll likely pass as the Bond stories, however appealing as movies, ended up boring me as books. But as a straight female of the species I was not, of course, their audience anyway. I suspect that I may also not be the audience of The Saint…?

  3. If it helps, “lukewarm” is the perfect word to describe my reaction to Cryptonomicon, too, and yet I am a rabid Baroque Cycle evangelist. I am now about 1/3rd through my second reading of it and have started a third, in parallel, aloud to my wife.

    Parts of A Fire Upon the Deep are thrilling and escapist, but generally speaking you’re right, Vinge’s probably not for you right now, especially not A Deepness In the Sky, which features antagonists so profoundly (yet plausibly) evil it’ll keep you up nights.

    Finally, we agree once again in our reactions to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels: boring. Happily the (early) Saint stories are nothing like that at all: they are playful, funny, and exciting, with just the right touch of seriousness when the stakes get high. Of the many pleasures in most early Saint stories is the fact that the narrator’s language is as thrilling and adventuresome as the Saint himself. If you’re not ready to commit to The Last Hero, there’s a large number of Saint short stories of early-1930’s vintage that are also mostly excellent.

  4. I’m the same way on the baroque cycle. I got about halfway through quicksilver and was distracted by something shiny.

    In this case, it’s Princess Chrissy’s collection of Agatha Christie novels. You can devour them in one sitting, and they’re very satisfying.

    Also, I second Vernor Vinge. I just wish he was more prolific. I absolutely loved Deepness and Fire, and agree about Peace War to boot.

    If you haven’t yet, read some Dan Simmons. Specifically the Hyperion series (hyperion – fall of hyperion – endymion – rise of endymion). Simply fantastic. His “trojan war on mars” books are also amazing: Ilium and Olympos.

  5. Jocarter7 permalink

    Did you ever read Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age? I actually liked that better than most of his other stuff (though I didn’t actually try the Baroque cycle).

    And it’s hard to recommend sci-fi/fantasy without getting into the classics which you very well may have read. Let’s see what I can come up with:

    Anything by Neil Gaiman. Good Omens is transcendent brain candy, American Gods is heavier but worth it.

    Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series (character-driven sci-fi) or her Curse of Chalion series (fantasy), any of which can be read on their own.

    Anything by Connie Willis (Hugo winner), particularly To Say Nothing of the Dog if you’re in the mood for humor

    And my own recent find — The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by GW Dahlquist, which is twisty, baroque, bizarre, melodramatic, and perhaps like eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s at one sitting.

    If any of these are unfamiliar to you, I’d be happy to elaborate on why I happily recommend them.

  6. JoiseyGirl permalink

    I recently read “Little, Big” by John Crowley and loved, loved, loved it. It’s nominally fantasy, but feels a bit like magical realism (although not set in South America) and contains some of the most gorgeous prose I’ve read in my life. It’s not exactly mind candy (I actually want to re-read it), but it might fit the bill.

    For pure mind candy, I would recommend Green Rider by Kristen Britain – fantasy, no real romance (but not nookie-free – a plus in my book) and a kick-ass heroine. You can read it in a weekend, and if you want more , there are 2 completely gratuitous sequels.

  7. First of all, a very overdue…


    Dang, girl. Missed you and your Pelinore. Give him a huge hug from me.

    Now back to the topic at hand…

    Things have been just a little busy around here lately so I didn’t think I’d even get the opportunity to follow up on any of the suggestions. Then yesterday I was at the office and the little gnomes in my brain decided that it was time to shut down all non-vital systems whether I liked it or not (which, for the record, I did not). I left a little early and came home to veg for a change. After attempting to watch a very unenjoyable movie I gave up on anything that had a screen and found myself at a loss for a mentally recuperative activity.

    After ransacking my bookshelf I discovered that I have a paperback of Quicksilver collecting dust. “My brain is running at Harry Potter speed right now, but so many of my friends liked it…” So I opened it up and dove in. Five hours later I went to bed.

    So far I like it rather a lot but I admit that I have zero idea what’s going on. There’s some guy, he’s on a ship bound for London, and the majority of the pages are devoted to flashback. Where’s this headed? I dunno, but I’m entertained and that’s what the doctor ordered.

    Bob, I may take you up on the book loan offer sometime so I can get Volume 2. Or I might use this as the motivation for finally getting my Berkeley Public Library card reactivated.

    Either way, the Stephenson is working for me so far and I’m pleasantly surprised.

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