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Books - Good and Bad

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Books - Good and Bad

Post#1 » Mon Jun 08, 2020 1:33 pm

Being under quarantine, I have been doing a lot of reading lately. I'd like to throw a few books out there for folks to consider and to avoid.

Good List
Rude Tales and Glorious
A bawdy retelling of a few Arthurian stories. This is the favorite book of friend of mine, and he bought a copy and had it shipped to me. This one was fun, and I am definitely going to be adapting a few of these tales for my campfire repertoire.

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin.
A vampire tale set on a Mississippi River steamer shortly before the Civil War. Really well written, but be advised that the book contains period language that is inappropriate today.

Bad List
The Dinosaur Lords trilogy by Victor Milan
My sister in law bought me these trio books last Christmas. Do yourself a favor and avoid them.
At first I thought they were poorly written. After a while I realized that indeed they are poorly written, but they are also poorly edited. The series wants to be gritty fantasy, like GoT, about a world where medieval knights ride on dinosaurs. But the writing is clumsy and awkward, and the author doesn't really explore the impact dinosaurs would have on society, or why there are dinosaurs there in the first place - it's hinted that the world on which the stories are set are a terraformed colony world, but it's never explained. And the worldbuilding is clumsy and heavy handed.
I have been working my way through these books a few pages at a time - at first I kept reading because there seemed to be a chance that the book would get better, but they didn't, and now I keep reading because I've invested too much time to stop now - but at this point am more than halfway through the third book, and the author is still introducing new characters and new intrigues, and it doesn't seem that the story is going to be concluded by the end of this one. And apparently there are no more to follow because the author died.
"No matter where you go, there you are."

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Re: Books - Good and Bad

Post#2 » Mon Jun 29, 2020 7:24 am

Update - I just finished the Dinosaur Lords trilogy over the weekend. If you had any thought of ignoring my earlier advice, I will say again - avoid this series. These were the worst three books I have ever finished. The writing is bad. The editing is worse. The world-building is pointless and superficial - as if the author thought that numerous references to past events gives the world legitimacy, even though they have no impact on current events. I feels like the author took the worst failings of A Song Of Ice And Fire and considered them virtues to emulate. Terrible, terrible books. I am considering dusting off The Black Company to wash the taste out of my mouth.
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Re: Books - Good and Bad

Post#3 » Mon Jun 29, 2020 5:54 pm

I've been reading a little less than usual during the lockdown, as while working from home saves me the commute time - the daily commute is also when I usually do a fair bit of reading. But, I'll share some of my recommendations from things I've read recently.

Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson)
I'm aiming to read through the whole series this year. I'm currently on the 5th (and thus am a little behind target). I love the level of detail the author goes into in describing how characters react to each other, their internal thoughts processes (including when they're being irrational, which is basically everyone at different times), the small details of village life. It really brings everything alive much more than in most books. It also helps in making the characters more distinctive and the reader to understand them. The flipside though is that it can be pretty slow. I'd call it more of the older style of 'polite fantasy' a la Lord of the Rings, rather than the current trend of grim-dark fantasy (which I enjoyed in Game of Thrones, but am kinda over it).

The Dwarves by Markus Heitz
Pretty stock-standard fantasy in some ways, and a little tropey. For example, the main character is a dwarf raised among humans, and his companions are two brothers (one barbarian-like, the other more level-headed), an old drunkard who was once the best stonemason, and a grumpy gemcutter who doesn't like any of the others but follows them out of his duty king and clan. There's also a troupe of players (bards), following along because they want to capture the story to turn it into a play. However, I don't mind tropey that much, and it also has enough differences and new ideas to keep it interesting. I've only read the first in the series so far, but I'm enjoying it. I find it has a very similar feel to D&D and I could imagine the story fitting an adventure quite well. I've also taken a few good ideas from it which I plan to use in future games.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
This is a hard Sci-Fi by a Chinese author, which won the Hugo award in 2015 and has been nominated for various other Sci-Fi awards. I'm probably not going to be able to describe it well, without giving things away, but I'll say up front that I loved it. It's set in China and the first couple of chapters are set in the 60s during the cultural revolution, after which it jumps to the modern day. Throughout the book there are lots of references to actual historical figures and events which the author ties in to the story. Helpfully, the translator includes footnotes to give further context for things which a western reader is unlikely to know much about. As it progresses, the Sci-Fi elements develop and the mystery continues to grow and be revealed. I'm a fan of hard sci-fi where the author bases things in actual science, and only uses fiction to fill in unknowns (while remaining consistent with the knowns). Overall, the author has done this well, and clearly knows a fair bit about physics and computer science (or at least has done his research). Towards the end there were a few things which went beyond this (replacing known science with fiction), but it made for an enjoyable story, so I tried to not get hung up on it. There's two more in the series which I'm really looking forward to reading.

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Re: Books - Good and Bad

Post#4 » Mon Jun 29, 2020 7:46 pm

Lyrwik - Have you read the Black Company books? It's gritty medieval fantasy about a crew of mercenaries. It takes many of the medieval fantasy tropes and looks at them through the eyes of soldiers who just want to get through the current fight and get home in one piece, and are no longer awed or impressed by what they are seeing.

Here's how the first book opens:

There were prodigies and portents enough, One-Eye says. We must blame ourselves for misinterpreting them. One-Eye’s handicap in no way impairs his marvelous hindsight.

Lightning from a clear sky smote the Necropolitan Hill. One bolt struck the bronze plaque sealing the tomb of the forvalaka, obliterating half the spell of confinement. It rained stones. Statues bled. Priests at several temples reported sacrificial victims without hearts or livers. One victim escaped after its bowels were opened and was not recaptured. At the Fork Barracks, where the Urban Cohorts were billeted, the image of Teux turned completely around. For nine evenings running, ten black vultures circled the Bastion. Then one evicted the eagle which lived atop the Paper Tower.

Astrologers refused readings, fearing for their lives. A mad soothsayer wandered the streets proclaiming the imminent end of the world. At the Bastion, the eagle not only departed, the ivy on the outer ramparts withered and gave way to a creeper which appeared black in all but the most intense sunlight.

But that happens every year. Fools can make an omen of anything in retrospect.

We should have been better prepared. We did have four modestly accomplished wizards to stand sentinel against predatory tomorrows—though never by any means as sophisticated as divining through sheeps’ entrails.

Still, the best augurs are those who divine from the portents of the past. They compile phenomenal records.

Beryl totters perpetually, ready to stumble over a precipice into chaos. The Queen of the Jewel Cities was old and decadent and mad, filled with the stench of degeneracy and moral dryrot. Only a fool would be surprised by anything found creeping its night streets.
"No matter where you go, there you are."

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Re: Books - Good and Bad

Post#5 » Mon Jun 29, 2020 10:38 pm

Stik wrote:Lyrwik - Have you read the Black Company books? It's gritty medieval fantasy about a crew of mercenaries. It takes many of the medieval fantasy tropes and looks at them through the eyes of soldiers who just want to get through the current fight and get home in one piece, and are no longer awed or impressed by what they are seeing.


Not yet, but they are on my to-read list on Goodreads.

I have a lot of unread books on my shelf though (~280 at the moment). I have a rule whereby I try to only buy a new book after I've read three that are already on my shelf. However, a couple of times a year there's a huge 2nd hand book sale (of books donated for charity) in my city, and since they only cost about $2.50 each, I don't apply my rule there...

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Re: Books - Good and Bad

Post#6 » Thu Jul 02, 2020 11:24 am

Lyrwik wrote:I've been reading a little less than usual during the lockdown, as while working from home saves me the commute time - the daily commute is also when I usually do a fair bit of reading.


Now that's talent, driving and reading a book at the same time :lol:

j/k :coffee:
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Re: Books - Good and Bad

Post#7 » Thu Jul 02, 2020 6:01 pm

Cole wrote:Now that's talent, driving and reading a book at the same time :lol:

j/k :coffee:


Haha, you may joke, but I have a friend who tried watching TV shows on his laptop while driving. He'd place it on the passenger seat and claimed he only looked over at the screen when stopped. Thankfully I think he only tried it the once, as he realised that if he stopped suddenly, the laptop could fly forward and break...

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Re: Books - Good and Bad

Post#8 » Fri Jul 03, 2020 5:13 am

I recommend this little known sci fi book (I never finishe reading it but I was too busy, I still recommend it): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_with_the_Newts its author introduced the word "robot" into the world even before robots were a thing (although automatons already were a thing). But that's another story...
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Re: Books - Good and Bad

Post#9 » Sun Sep 13, 2020 11:31 am

Someone (I think it was a PADnD member) suggested Jim Butcher's The Codex Alera series to me. I bought a six books from Amazon and have not been able to put them down since. I'm cursed with being a quick reader and hope to find something else soon. I may have to look into his Dresden Files series, yes the one and the same as the single season TV show.
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Re: Books - Good and Bad

Post#10 » Tue Sep 15, 2020 7:50 am

Lyrwik wrote:
Cole wrote:Now that's talent, driving and reading a book at the same time :lol:

j/k :coffee:


Haha, you may joke, but I have a friend who tried watching TV shows on his laptop while driving. He'd place it on the passenger seat and claimed he only looked over at the screen when stopped. Thankfully I think he only tried it the once, as he realised that if he stopped suddenly, the laptop could fly forward and break...


$750 fine here in Canada for anything open with a screen on it (unless it's built into the vehicle... IE nav). Yet I still see people on their cell phones talkin away... wish I was a cop somedays... but only if I could collect half the fine :lol:
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Re: Books - Good and Bad

Post#11 » Sat Sep 19, 2020 5:55 am

Lukafio wrote:Someone (I think it was a PADnD member) suggested Jim Butcher's The Codex Alera series to me. I bought a six books from Amazon and have not been able to put them down since. I'm cursed with being a quick reader and hope to find something else soon. I may have to look into his Dresden Files series, yes the one and the same as the single season TV show.


Okay, so about the Codex Alera and the Dresden Files: Reading Dresden after reading Alera is like eating filet mignon after eating a microwaved hamburger.

I found Alera to be formulaic and contrived, with fairly thin characters and predictable plot twists. It is essentially Pokemon in Ancient Rome, with Zerg.
Jim Butcher wrote: Me being an arrogant kid, I wrote him back saying, “Why don’t you give me TWO terrible ideas for a story, and I’ll use them BOTH.”
The core ideas he gave me were Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon… Thus was Alera formed. http://www.fantasyliterature.com/author ... m-butcher/


The Dresden Files is much deeper, with well-rounded characters, much richer world-building, and much more satisfying story arcs. This series also came about from meshing two disparate story ideas (wizardry and pulp noir gumshoe detective stories) but it just works. There is real emotion in the writing, and you become invested in the characters. And the Dresden Files features what I consider to be the best-written Paladin ever (even if he does drive a pickup truck). My one caveat is that Storm Front, the first novel in the series, was also the first novel that Butcher ever wrote, and being a first novel, it is a bit rough at times. The second book, Fool Moon, is better. By the third book, Grave Peril, Butcher has found his voice and really hit his stride, and it is awesome.

I am currently re-reading The Dresden Files. One doesn't just re-read sixteen books unless they're awesome. You get to experience them for the first time, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did, and if you are enjoying Alera, Dresden is going to blow your doors off.
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