Books I have read

Books I have read and my thoughts on them. I have read more books than this; this list was started some time after I gained basic literacy. New entries added at the top. I probably won’t add books I really didn’t like.

As most nerds, I have read a lot of fantasy. Some good, most mediocre (but might have seemed good at the time). Today I mostly prefer modern hard sci-fi, although I am also trying to make my way through the classics of literature.

In contrast to some, I don’t enjoy sci-fi when it is an allegory over current events or society, or whatnot. I like it best when it is a particularly elaborate what-if story.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

As I suppose is the case for most people, I was well aware of the basic plot of Moby Dick, as well as its surface interpretations. Yet I had never actually read it, and I was curious to see if it was really a “dense symbolist tome” as it was called in media I am more familiar with. To my surprise, it’s actually a rather pleasant and even somewhat funny read. The narrator (call him Ishmael) comes off as supremely neurotic, stating on the very first page that he goes to sea every time he feels the urge to kill himself. Almost everyone in this tale is highly quirky and speaks in hilariously flowery language. The infamous Ahab doesn’t even come across as that unusual among this crew, and doesn’t interfere much with the plot until the very abrupt end. While I have no doubt that I missed a lot of the deeper symbolism and such, Moby Dick is worth reading simply because it is an amusing and well-told story. The actual plot is pretty unimportant (you know what it is already, and how it ends); but the writing is just so elaborate that even chapters were nothing happens are delightful to read. And speaking of chapters, the fact that the book is split into literally 135 chapters makes it quite easy to pick up and put down for short reading sessions.

Oh, and the chapters that go off on tangents about the specifics of whaling, and whale biology as it was understood in the mid 19th century, are amusing all on their own.

Dune by Frank Herbert

The following concerns only the original Dune and the three sequels Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, and God Emperor of Dune. I have heard that the ones after this are dreadful. I must admit I was a bit disappointed in all of them. While by no means bad books, I think they are eclipsed by the later installments in the genre they helped create; many of which I read before their progenitor. While the books were quite atmospheric, I felt they began to increasingly depend on sheer weirdness, and lack of explanation of the universe. I often had the feeling that the ideas under discussion were simple enough, but obscured with strange jargon. While not my favourite way of storytelling, it can work (see Ancillary Justice). I just don’t think it did here. (The later books are the worst at this - but definitely read the original Dune.)

Ancillary {Justice, Sword, Mercy} by Ann Leckie

While I was initially put off by Ancillary Justice as it relied heavily on its setting simply being inexplicably weird, something about the writing kept me reading, and the trilogy is now one of my absolute favourites. The books are fairly short and the plot is quite tight. Everything in this story just feels polished. The basic premise of the book is simply how a military dictatorship is run through distributed natural and artificial intelligence, and what might happen when that starts to break down, although such a description doesn’t give much justice to the richness and atmosphere of the books.