What have you been reading?

thebigh

Gelatinous noob
Joined
Feb 25, 2022
Messages
160
Reaction score
493
Yesterday I read The Ability to Kill by the thriller writer Eric Ambler. The book is a miscellaneous grab-bag of essays, short stories, and other hard to classify writings. I've previously read a few of his novels and enjoyed them.

I bought this book years ago second hand but I don't think I've ever done more than flick through it because the stories in it were all unfamiliar. The pick of the bunch is a piece called Spy-Haunts of the World. It's written in the style of a guide for birdwatchers or trainspotters, but is about where and how to observe international spies. It starts with a general overview of the spy-spotting world, lamenting about how difficult it has become to observe spies in the modern world before moving on to specifics. The louche-rating, a method for identifying a spy on a 1-10 scale of how sketchy they are, is a highlight. So is the author's story about his own encounter with a genuine bona fide spy, though he didn't recognise her as such at the time.

It's only about 15 pages long and good for a chuckle if you're in the mood for a whimsical clever story.
 

Giganotosaurus

I'm a traveler of both time and space
Joined
Sep 22, 2018
Messages
2,777
Reaction score
8,488
The pick of the bunch is a piece called Spy-Haunts of the World. It's written in the style of a guide for birdwatchers or trainspotters, but is about where and how to observe international spies.
So Spy vs. Spy gets literal with their avian appearance?
 

Brock Savage

Cosmic Barbarian
Joined
Jun 17, 2019
Messages
3,916
Reaction score
10,246
I am re-reading Papillion while sick. It has been one of my favorite books since I was 15. This autobiography explores life in the French Guiana penal colony and multiple escapes from 1931-1945. I've read a lot of men's adventure novels and this one is undeniably #1.
 

Simon Hogwood

Puritan Bearbearian
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
1,253
Reaction score
3,104
I hope there will be more ‘Mortu and Kyrus’ adventures in future.
There are two so far; one in the post-apocalyptic anthology The Penultimate Men published by Pilum Press, the other is one of the new stories added to that publisher's just-released revised edition of Hernstrom's first collection, Thune's Vision. Make sure you get the one with this cover:

71bGnm1j5+L.jpg
 

Lofgeornost

Vulpine once more.
Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
1,780
Reaction score
5,046
There are two so far; one in the post-apocalyptic anthology The Penultimate Men published by Pilum Press, the other is one of the new stories added to that publisher's just-released revised edition of Hernstrom's first collection, Thune's Vision. Make sure you get the one with this cover:
Thanks--I'll have to look for those.

Courtesy of my local public library’s e-book app, Hoopla, I read Chris Womersley’s short (192 page) historical novel City of Crows. It’s set in France in the early 1670s; the titular city is Paris, though much of the novel does not take place there. The plot, in brief (and without giving too much away): Charlotte Picot, a recently-widowed woman from a small village near Lyon, loses her son (and sole surviving child) to a band of kidnappers, who intend to sell the children as servants (or worse) in Paris. Wounded, she is aided by a wise-woman in a nearby wood, who selects Charlotte as her successor and gives her a grimoire. In her quest to find her son, Charlotte falls in with Adam du Coueret, a mountebank and magician who has just been freed from a sentence to the galleys, and who is convinced/coerced into aiding her. I won’t say more about the events of the novel, since it is plot-driven.

It’s a good read and Womersley an accomplished writer—he has won some awards in his native Australia for his fiction. The most interesting thing about it, from an RPG perspective, is its picture of magic. Adam, though he believes in the occult, uses trickery and showmanship to gull people, telling fortunes with tarot cards and ‘delivering messages to Satan’ by placing them in a ball of wax mixed with gunpowder and throwing them into the fire. Charlotte in contrast is perfectly sincere in her magical workings—but as the novel presents them, all of the effects could be attributed to chance or to natural phenomena. That of course fits with some views of how magic works—spells do not result in showy effects ala most RPGs, but instead lead to the outcome desired, through apparently natural means. The question of magic’s reality is left to the end of the novel (and even then is rather opaque).

Womersley’s inspiration for the book was the ‘Affair of the Poisons’ in Paris in 1679, when a number of magicians, abortionists, etc. were investigated and imprisoned for their activities, including participation in a possible plot by courtiers to poison Louis XIV. Adam was a real individual involved in that scandal, and some of the other participants in it show up in the book, most notably one of the main figures, Catherine Monvoison, who was burned for witchcraft in 1680. I’ve read a bit about the case and IMO Womersley does a fine job of drawing on history, but recasting it for his own purposes. Just to be clear—the book is set years before that incident and does not track its events.
 

ZDL

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 3, 2022
Messages
82
Reaction score
201
Welcome to the Pub @
ZDL
ZDL !

Thank you!

Tell me, how is the Folk Stories of the Yi? Anything particular stick out?

The Yi are my favourite minority in China, so I'm quite enthralled at finally finding a collection of their folk stories. (I have Chamu as well, but only got that literally yesterday so haven't read it.) I'm about a third of the way through the folk tales collection. Thus far the story of Alujure is the one that has entertained me most. The story of Gengzi, however, is very enlightening culturally-speaking.
 

Klibbix!

Depraved Necromancer
Joined
Dec 18, 2020
Messages
595
Reaction score
1,383
Finished Michael McDowell's The Elementals yesterday, a Southern Gothic horror novel set on an isolated peninsula. Pretty classic haunted house story with some interesting variations on beloved tropes. I loved 99% of the book, though I think it was wrapped up a little quickly and the ending left a little to be desired. I particularly enjoyed the characters and their family dynamics, and I would have been happy with it even if there were no supernatural aspects! I liked it enough to order another of McDowell's novels, Cold Moon over Babylon, and I'm looking forward to exploring the Southern Gothic genre in more detail. Funnily enough, it looks like the author was involved in writing the script for Beetlejuice and I think I can see some common elements. In all, I would recommend it, though there were bits I would have explored more and some I could have done without.

In addition, Michael Rowe wrote the introduction to the edition I read and, exploring his own output, I found out that he's written two horror novels set in Ontario...a pretty rare thing! I've also ordered those as I can't think of the last book I read even set in my own province, much less a horror one.
 

Voros

Doomed Investigator
Joined
Sep 23, 2017
Messages
12,084
Reaction score
22,951
Finished Michael McDowell's The Elementals yesterday, a Southern Gothic horror novel set on an isolated peninsula. Pretty classic haunted house story with some interesting variations on beloved tropes. I loved 99% of the book, though I think it was wrapped up a little quickly and the ending left a little to be desired. I particularly enjoyed the characters and their family dynamics, and I would have been happy with it even if there were no supernatural aspects! I liked it enough to order another of McDowell's novels, Cold Moon over Babylon, and I'm looking forward to exploring the Southern Gothic genre in more detail. Funnily enough, it looks like the author was involved in writing the script for Beetlejuice and I think I can see some common elements. In all, I would recommend it, though there were bits I would have explored more and some I could have done without.

In addition, Michael Rowe wrote the introduction to the edition I read and, exploring his own output, I found out that he's written two horror novels set in Ontario...a pretty rare thing! I've also ordered those as I can't think of the last book I read even set in my own province, much less a horror one.

I'm a McDowell fan but have yet to read The Elementals but it is on my to-read pile for sure. Luckily I was able to scoop up most of his paperbacks before the revival of interest in him and got them for next to nothing.

If you like the characterizations and southern Gothic aspects I can't recommend his Blackwater highly enough.

It is 95% southern family epic with the occasional lizardwoman eating men and children and vengeful ghost appearance. I find the mix fascinating and as you say it would stand up well as a novel with the horror elements removed.
 

Klibbix!

Depraved Necromancer
Joined
Dec 18, 2020
Messages
595
Reaction score
1,383
I'm a McDowell fan but have yet to read The Elementals but it is on my to-read pile for sure. Luckily I was able to scoop up most of his paperbacks before the revival of interest in him and got them for next to nothing.

If you like the characterizations and southern Gothic aspects I can't recommend his Blackwater highly enough.

It is 95% southern family epic with the occasional lizardwoman eating men and children and vengeful ghost appearance. I find the mix fascinating and as you say it would stand up well as a novel with the horror elements removed.
You had me at, “lizardwoman,” I’ll put it on my list!

I can’t remember the last time I was actually frightened by a book, but McDowell definitely sent a shiver or two down my spine.
 

Lofgeornost

Vulpine once more.
Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
1,780
Reaction score
5,046
Over the weekend, I read Tales of Attluma, by David C. Smith (Pulp Hero Press, 2020). I don't think I'd ever read any of his work before, but Smith wrote a series of novels about a hero named Oron and (with Richard Tierney) a set of Red Sonja books. This collection features stories Smith published mainly in fanzines in the 1970s and early 1980s. As the title indicates, they are all set in the same imaginary continent, which Atlantis-like ultimately was destroyed. The stories vary a bit in quality, probably showing Smith's growing abilities as a writer, though since the book does not list the original publication dates or order it's hard to be sure. In the introduction, Smith lists as his original models Howard and CAS--in these stories the latter comes through more strongly. One of the weaker offerings, "Dark at Heart" features a barbaric hero who would not be out-of-place in Howard, but stories more frequently feature magicians as protagonists. Some of the tales show Tierney's influence, I'd guess, sharing some Gnostic ideas that you can find in his Simon of Gitta works.
 

Endless Flight

SWO!
Administrator
Moderator
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
11,579
Reaction score
29,411
I’m reading this fascinating book from 1966 about the 1961 Hill UFO encounter/abduction that was recently reprinted. It happened about an hour from where I live. Been down that stretch of road a couple times. I do intend to read Incident at Exeter next but I’ll have to pick it up second-hand.


358A1891-612A-4034-8885-A35146776B3E.jpeg
 

Simon Hogwood

Puritan Bearbearian
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
1,253
Reaction score
3,104
I've just finished Castaways in Time, a 1979 novel by Robert "Horseclans" Adams.
2894870._SY475_.jpg
It starts off like a precursor to something like Flint's 1632 or Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time, with a mixed group of contemporary people mysteriously flung through time and space. It goes along at a good clip, with the characters leveraging their futuristic skills and resources to become movers and shakers in their current surroundings. Where is gets interesting is watching as they figure out they're not just in the past, but in a parallel timeline (this is not a spoiler, the fact that they're interrupting the conquest of Arthur III Tudor's England by Church-sponsored Crusaders is spelled out in the book description), and then they start discovering there are other time travelers . . . who appear to be from the future. It's the first in a series of six, and it sounds like they get more gonzo as they go along, I picked them all up at a used bookstore for a song (well, several songs), so I guess I'll find out.

I thought the premise would be a great setup for an RPG campaign, either relatively straight or with a fantastic twist (wizards from D&D world X accidentally-on-purpose summon the party off contemporary earth . . . wait, that's just the D&D cartoon! :shock: )
 

Lofgeornost

Vulpine once more.
Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
1,780
Reaction score
5,046
Courtesy of Hoopla, the e-book service from the local library, I read Dave Duncan's Speak to the Devil, a fantasy novel set c. 1475 in Jorgary, a Ruritania-like country somewhere in Eastern Europe, bordering on Pomerania (though the geography in the book is entirely made up). One of the setting conceits is that some individuals in this world are 'Speakers'--that is, they hear apparently saintly voices, and can ask the saints for miracles/magic. The process seems to be modeled on how Joan of Arc described her voices. The Church, however, believes that the voices are in fact demons and that Speakers are in league with the devil. A young minor noble, Anton, is sent on a mission to defend a key border castle that is being threatened with invasion; he is chosen because the local cardinal (obviously modeled on both Wolsey and Richelieu) suspects he is a Speaker. Magic, military threats, romance, and intrigue all ensue.

Duncan has written a lot of fantasy novels, including the King's Blades series, but I think this is the first of his books that I've read. I enjoyed it, though it is a bit too predictable in spots and the romance element seems somewhat forced. The prose is solid but nothing special. I'll probably go on to the second book of the series, though I'm not sure I'll do so immediately.
 

sharps54

Legendary Member
Joined
Jul 25, 2019
Messages
324
Reaction score
618
Currently rereading Salems Lot by Stephen King and a Kindle collection of Robert E. Howard’s Westerns.

I typically have one physical book I read at night (Salems Lot in this case) and one book on Kindle for those times I’m waiting for my vehicle to be serviced or at the doctor’s office or any other time I have a free time and my phone handy (Howard’s Westerns currently).
 

Rich H

Bear with me; learning not to be an arse!
Joined
Nov 18, 2019
Messages
581
Reaction score
1,770
I seem to be re-reading books rather than reading ones I haven't read. It's a habit I've picked up only in the past few years. Sure, I used to re-read the Amber Chronicles and LotR a lot but I'm talking about something more acute and it being across more/all books. Is this an age thing?!?!
 

sharps54

Legendary Member
Joined
Jul 25, 2019
Messages
324
Reaction score
618
I seem to be re-reading books rather than reading ones I haven't read. It's a habit I've picked up only in the past few years. Sure, I used to re-read the Amber Chronicles and LotR a lot but I'm talking about something more acute and it being across more/all books. Is this an age thing?!?!
I think so, a nostalgia thing. It’s the reason I recently picked up all the old Palladium games like TMNT that I had back then.
 

Lofgeornost

Vulpine once more.
Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
1,780
Reaction score
5,046
I seem to be re-reading books rather than reading ones I haven't read. It's a habit I've picked up only in the past few years. Sure, I used to re-read the Amber Chronicles and LotR a lot but I'm talking about something more acute and it being across more/all books. Is this an age thing?!?!

I think so, a nostalgia thing. It’s the reason I recently picked up all the old Palladium games like TMNT that I had back then.

Yeah I think it's a nostalgia thing myself. I know I've caught myself doing it as well in recent years.

I'll give a slightly different perspective; I think it's linked to age but not necessarily to nostalgia. At this point in my life, I've read I couldn't guess how many thousands of fiction books. Most of them I have relatively little remembrance of, especially if I read them decades ago. I will tend to remember if I liked them or not, and I'm only likely to hold on to the ones I enjoyed, since I purge physical books every so often for space.

So, when looking for something to read, it can make sense to reach for a book that I know I liked but I really don't remember much about. I get much the same enjoyment as I would in reading something entirely new, but the book is 'pre-screened' for me, so to speak. Also, though I like newer genre fiction too, to some extent my tastes were set by an earlier era. Some books that are very popular nowadays, like Becky Chambers' work, I find a little cloying.

With that said, I suppose that if I looked back over what I've read and posted about in this thread over the last couple of years, most of it was material I was encountering effectively for the first time, though a good deal of it was written long ago.

And, to contradict myself almost completely, the latest thing I've been reading is Dave Duncan's When the Saints (2011), his sequel to Speak to the Devil that I mentioned just upthread. It ties up the situation involved in the first book, including the threat of invasion of Jorgary, but expands on it significantly, adding a lot of different players and factions into the mix and many competing agendas. The first book made me expect more that there would be more military elements, but Duncan wraps those up fairly quickly--which was fine, the intrigue was interesting as well.

From a gaming perspective, the most interesting thing about the books is the use of magic in it and the institutions and social relationships built around that--all in a 15th-century European framework. But all of that is deeply tied to the plot and mysteries of the novels, so I won't say more about it. The original idea seems to have been 'what if Joan of Arc had actually been a magician' but things develop from there.

There are two things that seemed a little odd in the setting. First, the invented kingdom of Jorgary is threatened by invasion by Pomerania. It's important that the border between the two is mountainous, with only one easily-defended pass between them (which features in the books quite a bit). Now, an author can surely invent as much geography as he likes, but putting mountains on the edge of Pomerania is kind of odd (North German plain and all that). I found myself wondering why Duncan didn't move all of his action farther south, to the Alpine regions and Balkans--the only other neighbor of Jorgary's that we hear much about is Bavaria.

Second, the book refers over and over to 'the Inquisition,' in 1475, when there really wasn't such a thing yet. There were inquisitors, there were many different inquisitions in disparate places at various times, but no overall institution. It's rather like writing about 'the English Army' in the 1300s. There were certainly armies raised by the crown, for various campaigns, and some long-serving garrisons, but no real institution--that is 'the Army' with a permanent existence as there would be by the 1700s.
 

sharps54

Legendary Member
Joined
Jul 25, 2019
Messages
324
Reaction score
618
That probably plays a part but I distinctly remember, or think I remember, certain illustrations and parts of the text of the RPG books I look to reaquire. Now I am also buying the books I missed as a kid so that is a little different.
 

zanshin

Legendary Member
Joined
Jan 13, 2021
Messages
607
Reaction score
1,233
I am re-reading Papillion while sick. It has been one of my favorite books since I was 15. This autobiography explores life in the French Guiana penal colony and multiple escapes from 1931-1945. I've read a lot of men's adventure novels and this one is undeniably #1.
I haven't read the book, but did really enjoy the film :smile:
 

Lofgeornost

Vulpine once more.
Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
1,780
Reaction score
5,046
So, this morning I finished Shadowfire, the second book in Tanith Lee's Birthgrave trilogy. It used to have a different title--Vazkor son of Vazkor, I think. Anyway, it follows the life of the son of the main character from the first book, as he grows up among the barbarian tribe in which his mother left him and comes to realize his heritage and differences from them. A major part of the plot is his relationship with a woman from one of the nearby city-states whom he captures.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, which I'll attribute to Lee's skill as an author. On the face of it, the book has much less to offer than The Birthgrave, since it occurs in essentially the same environment, and it lacks the underlying mystery of the first book. One thing that helps to keep the setting fresh, though, is that it has moved on in time from the action of the first book--we get to see a somewhat changed world, much affected by the events of the first novel. We also learn that some things that main character believed were not, strictly speaking, accurate.

I'm looking forward to the final book in the series, Hunting the White Witch, but am a bit p.o.ed with Amazon concerning it. I ordered both books at the same time, in paperback. Shadowfire came pretty quickly but the third book is apparently backordered--it is now showing on my account as 'shipped--arriving August 1' even though its listing on the Amazon main page says you can get it by June 27 if you order it today. I'd like to cancel the order and get the book on Kindle instead (the price is the same). But I can't. According to Amazon, my book is already 'shipped' via USPS--though when I checked with them it has not really shipped at all and they have not yet received it from Amazon. So this seems like a way to hold on to my money for a month while they backorder.
 

Kilted Rob

Where's your troosers?
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Messages
858
Reaction score
2,705
Amazon has been losing more and more of my business with their practices. It does help that the Ingram book warehouse is 70 miles north of me and 90% of what I order through my local bookstore is here in 48 hours or less.
 

Lofgeornost

Vulpine once more.
Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
1,780
Reaction score
5,046
The second and final volume of Isabelle Dethan's The Straw King (2021) recently became available in English via Hoopla (my library app) so I read it this weekend. I think I posted about the first volume farther up the thread. The comic concerns an Egyptian minor princess and prince who flee their own country and end up in Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon, where they are drawn into political intrigue.

I enjoyed it, but this second installment is not as well-plotted as the first; the story felt rather shapeless to me, and the two main characters are somewhat peripheral to it. Still the art is a big attraction--lovely water-color-like images.
 

Lofgeornost

Vulpine once more.
Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
1,780
Reaction score
5,046
Finally finished reading Medieval Germany 1056-1273 by Alfred Haverkamp, in part due to a recommendation by Lofgeornost Lofgeornost . Not bad, but a bit dry. I may need to find info that is a little more bite-sized and try to absorb the relevant info in smaller doses.
Sorry it was dry, but that seems a fair comment on the genre (historical textbooks).
 

Tulpa Girl

"Hello, motherf*ckers!"
Joined
Nov 14, 2018
Messages
4,451
Reaction score
17,962
Sorry it was dry, but that seems a fair comment on the genre (historical textbooks).

Some if it I liked better than other parts. The parts describing the various social changes that were occuring at the time I didn't have a problem with. When there was a laundry list of names and their various bickerings I sometimes got a bit lost trying to keep track of them - I wonder of that was less of an issue for the original German audience, who (at least in theory) probably have a better knowledge of the major German historical figures of the era.
 

Lofgeornost

Vulpine once more.
Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
1,780
Reaction score
5,046
Some if it I liked better than other parts. The parts describing the various social changes that were occuring at the time I didn't have a problem with. When there was a laundry list of names and their various bickerings I sometimes got a bit lost trying to keep track of them - I wonder of that was less of an issue for the original German audience, who (at least in theory) probably have a better knowledge of the major German historical figures of the era.
I imagine you are right. For what it's worth, I often find narrative history--especially political narrative--less interesting and harder to digest than social or economic history. It's particularly the case when I'm not that familiar with the times, places, or individuals concerned.

I guess I just find structures more interesting than events and things related to daily life often more intriguing than politics. I've sometimes wondered if this is a result of having been a role-playing gamer before I became professionally concerned with history. Social history is just more obviously useful for gaming purposes...

Biographies, of course, are one way to 'put a face' on political history and make it more palatable. Unfortunately, we know so little about the lives of even rulers in High Medieval Germany that one can't write a biography of them in the modern sense--just a study of 'life and reign' really. Historical novels can be a way to connect with politics, too, since novelists can supply characterization and motivation the historical record can't. Then it can be kind of neat to compare their speculations with what we really know. And having some mental connection to an individual, even it it's just 'he or she is this character in that novel' can make them easier to keep straight in one's 'mind.
 
Cthulhu Mythos - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com
Top