Posts Tagged ‘readalong’

The Sparrow Readalong

Woo, squiders! This is quite a book. Bit rough to read in places. And apparently there is a sequel, Children of God, which starts up almost immediately after the first book ends.

I’m always a bit amused with science fiction books that were written a while ago (this was published in 1996) and were set in a time that has caught up to us. The Sparrow follows two timelines: one, after the mission, and the other going over the events that lead up to it (and the mission itself, later on), which starts in 2016.

Anyway! The Sparrow tells that story of a Jesuit mission to the planet of Rakhat, in orbit around Alpha Centauri. It’s got a lot of deep themes–about God and religion (though I do want to make it clear that it is not a religious book–there’s no dogmas being forced on the reader, and the characters themselves are of varying faiths and levels of belief/agnostics), about interacting with new cultures, about human interactions and how one views one’s self, etc. I can definitely see why it won a bunch of awards.

And it’s a debut novel. Major props to Ms. Russell.

The novel pulls no punches. And it takes the interesting tack of putting the ending first. Father Emilio Sandoz is the sole survivor of the mission to Rakhat, and his name has been drug through the mud before he even makes it home, thanks to a transmission that was sent as he was leaving the planet to return home. He’s a broken man, both physically and mentally. So as the novel starts, you know this mission went bad. You know everyone died.

And then the novel goes about introducing everyone and stepping through the events leading up to the mission, and making you care about people, which is really very evil. I cried at one point when one of the characters died.

I feel like the approach to the species on Rakhat is an interesting choice as well. These are not alien aliens, that are incomprehensible to their human visitors, but more your Star Trek or Star Wars type of alien, where are the body parts are more or less in the same parts and they have conventions along the lines of humans. There can be a connection. There can be an exchange of language and ideas.

Anyway! I hope you read this one with me, squiders. I really enjoyed it. Dunno if I’ll pick up the sequel with any sort of timeliness, so I’m not going to include it as part of the readalong.

Thoughts on The Sparrow, squiders?

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Announcing the Sparrow Readalong

Right, squiders, the results are in from last week’s poll! So for this month’s/quarter’s/however often we get to it’s readalong, we’re going to the doing The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

My spouse will be pleased, as he greatly enjoyed the book and has been after me to read it for years.

This is an older book, originally published in 1997 (so it’s still newer than 85% of the rest of the stuff we’ve read in the readalongs over the years). Goodreads tells me it’s set in 2019, so I look forward to being amused by predictions gone awry.

(I’m reading a late ’70s scifi book right now which has overshot it all on technology and undershot everything social, which is pretty par for the course.)

From what I understand, it’s the story of a Jesuit priest who is part of a scientific expedition to contact a alien race on a planet we’ve picked up radio waves or some such from.

It’s supposed to be really good–the book has a 4.2 out of 5 on Goodreads, and won a ton of awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke award, James Tiptree award, and the British Science Fiction Association award.

Apparently there’s a sequel? Well, we’re see how we’re feeling after we read this one.

Anyway! I hope you’ll read this one with me! (Especially after I dug it out of the bottom of a stack of books.) It’s ~430 pages, so let’s give ourselves a little over a month–let’s discuss on June 5th.

Which Book Shall We Read?

Well, squiders, I was looking at my bookshelves for books to read for the next readalong, and I realized something: I am terrible at picking out books. Sure, we did Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time and Howl’s Moving Castle and those were all lovely books, but they were also all YA, and in the adult realm we had the disastrous Finnbranch Trilogy and Dream Thieves, and it’s all been bad.

(Wait, we did the Foundation Trilogy in there. Those were okay.)

So! I thought maybe you guys would have better tastes than me, and we could perhaps arrive at something good. That being said, I have provided some options, both standalones and series, and would like you to choose one to do.

(You don’t necessarily need to read along unless you want to, so you can just pick whatever one you’d like me to babble about later.)

So, without further ado, our options:

(Also, if you really want to read something, you can always let me know in the comments!)

Readalong: Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead

The title looked really barren for a second, and then I remembered that this was our first standalone readalong, so I normally have the series title as well.

Anyway! It’s the 18th! Let’s get to it.

First, the basics. Dream Thief is an early-’80s science fiction novel about Spencer Reston, a sleep researcher interested in the long-term effects of space travel on people. Stephen R. Lawhead is a name I have heard before–he’s probably most famous for his Pendragon cycle (late ’80s through late ’90s) and his trilogy of Robin Hood retelling (mid-2000s)–but I’ve never gotten around to reading anything of his before.

I suspect I picked this book up at a thrift store somewhere along the line, but I have had it for a long time, so if nothing else, I’m glad to have finally gotten through it.

Spencer Reston has recently arrived on Gotham, a space station in orbit around Earth. It’s quite an honor to have your experiment chosen by the station, but things have not been going well. Every night Spencer (nicknamed Spence, though it’s somewhat inconsistent throughout what other characters call him) goes to sleep in the lab to have his sleep recorded; every morning he wakes up knowing he’s had terrible nightmares that he cannot remember.

There’s multiple viewpoints through, and there’s some headhopping which is a bit annoying at times but not terrible. The antagonists also have viewpoints, starting maybe halfway, so there’s no great mystery in how the story is going (or at least what they’re trying to accomplish).

There are some good things about the novel–for being fairly massive (and a bit slow in places), it reads pretty fast. The dialogue is good. The sequence on Mars, though it does bog down at one particular point, is quite interesting and some good scifi. There are some interesting side characters that I enjoyed very much.

That said, some other characters are almost walking stereotypes. There is a single female character of any note who is handled fairly badly. The theme of the story is heavy-handed almost to the point of ridiculousness in some places. And then there’s Spence.

Are you familiar with what it means when a story is considered “wish fulfillment”? Essentially, it’s when an author writes about what they wish would happen to them. My husband has recently been reading a novel about a man who’s cryogenically frozen, and when he wakes up, there’s a shortage of men and all the lovely, young, nubile women can’t keep their hands off of him. (My husband gave it an honest go, but eventually the book got too ridiculous and he gave up on it.) This feels like that in some places. All the good guys like Spence immediately, he gains intimate friends through no effort on his part (people who are willing to die for him), important people take care of him, etc. Yes, of course, there is the dream issue which is a problem, but there’s no lack of people trying to help him out.

And, of course, the single female character falls madly in love with him.

And Spence is kind of a jerk, especially through the first part of the book (it doesn’t really start to change until after Mars), which makes it a bit more grating.

(Oh, yeah, and there’s no female scientists. We talked about that already.)

So, let’s see. It’s an okay book. It has its good and bad points, but I don’t think I’d recommend it to someone else. There’s better scifi out there, both in terms of story and scifi concepts, and between the character pitfalls and Spence in general, the good points get somewhat overruled.

Did you read this with me, Squiders? Thoughts? Favorite part? What did you think about reading a single book over reading a series? Which would you prefer to do moving forward?

Readalong Announcement: Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead

Well, squiders, I’ve gone through my bookshelves and picked a book for us to try for our first stand-alone book readalong.

(Of course, since I was looking for a standalone, I found a ton of duologies and trilogies, because that is, of course, how this goes.)

I’ve picked Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead, which is a science fiction novel from the early ’80s. I think I picked it up from Goodwill at some point some years ago. I was originally looking at Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, but at almost 1200 pages I thought that might be too long for this sort of thing.

(Let me know if you are on board for reading 1000+ page novels over a couple of months. Maybe we could do monthly check-ins and break it down more. It’s an idea.)

Dream Thief is slightly under 500 pages, at least in my copy, which is from the mid-90s, and has fairly large font, so it shouldn’t be too bad. I’m going to give us until January 16 to read this so we have plenty of time to survive the holidays and whatnot.

Just a reminder that we’re playing with the readalong format here. If we don’t like the standalones, we can go back to the series, or we can do a mix of standalones and series moving forward.

This should be interesting, anyway. Older science fiction and fantasy can be so hit or miss, and even if things are good, they still often include aspects that wouldn’t fly today. (A friend once recommended a book called The Voyages of the Space Beagle, which is about a crew of about 1000 scientists of various fields flying about exploring space, but not a single person onboard is a woman.)

So, read along, as usual, if this sounds interesting, and we’ll discuss in mid-January.

Oh, and as a FYI, here’s the book description from Goodreads:

Every morning Dr. Spencer Reston, dream-research scientist on space station Gotham, wakes up exhausted with the nagging feeling that something terrible is about to happen. Spence soon discovers that he has become a vital link in a cosmic coup masterminded by a mysterious creature known as the Dream Thief . . . and all civilization hangs in the balance.

Common writing mistakes on Thursday! See you then!

Creative Endeavors and a Readalong?

Hey, squiders! I hope you’re having a good week! Mine hasn’t been excellent, but what can you do?

As you guys know, I’ve been working on some other creative endeavors recently aside from just writing. (I did get two short stories written at the end of October/beginning of November, so hooray!) The first is a musical review of Christmas songs from musicals and movies, and I also just finished up a drawing class at my local rec center.

The musical review has been…interesting. We have our last rehearsal tonight, where we’re learning a dance for the first time. And then there’s no rehearsal until tech week starts after Thanksgiving. I shall be very interested to see how that goes. Also, we haven’t run through the show in any way or form–I have no idea what order the songs go in. I’ll admit to being a bit anxious about that. I haven’t done a musical review before, but I have done plays and musicals, and the order is so important. Maybe, because there’s not a ton of flow, it doesn’t matter so much. Maybe we’ll just get a list of songs backstage so we can check where we are.

Who knows? Not me!

I’m singing tenor on most of the songs. There’s…five? guys in the show compared to about twenty women, so the balance was off. And I can sing tenor, though it does make my throat hurt after a while. So that’s ALSO been interesting, especially since I’ve forgotten how to read a tenor clef.

(Also, I’m singing harmony on “Welcome Christmas” from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which is proving difficult since I’m so familiar with the melody, but as long as I get off on the right foot I’m okay. Ah, the struggles of not being a soprano.)

(Also, why do the sopranos always get the melodies?)

Have you done musical reviews, Squiders? Is it normal to be so disconnected?

My drawing class was an interesting experience. I enjoyed having two hours to myself every week to do nothing but draw. Not sure I learned anything, though. Here’s a picture of some trees I drew.

treeeees

I’d like to say I’ve been keeping up with the drawing, but I haven’t. But maybe I can institute drawing time with the small, mobile ones? They get crayons and construction paper. Well, the bigger one can have markers, but the smaller one draws on herself and my couch, so no markers for her.

I’ve been pondering doing another readalong, but perhaps instead of getting stuck in what might be a terrible series (here’s looking at you, Finnbranch trilogy) we could try doing a single book every now and then. I’ve just started Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book which might be a good one (big though–600 pages), though I do have some older scifi and fantasy that I picked up at MileHiCon.

What do you think, Squiders? Would reading a single book and then discussing it be something you’d be interested in?

We’ll talk common writing problems again on Thursday.

Nonfiction Poll, Videocast Thoughts, and Other Sundry

Hey, guess what, squiders. I found my paper for the Shards library book talk. It was under my bed. Sigh. Who the heck knows why. (There were also cat hairballs under my bed, alas.) Too late to save me now.

(One would think I would put it someplace where I can find it now, but it’s still on my nightstand. Authors: not always the most organized people. We can follow a character arc to its completion but can’t remember where we put our socks.)

Nonfiction! Let’s start back up. I’ve got two options for the next one instead of giving you the giant list.

I’m good with either though I have already done a lot of work on the outlining one, so if you want to make my life easier… >_>

So, it sounds like people like the videocast idea! I like it too, and I actually have a pretty decent set-up for doing video which I’ve used previously for interviews and whatnot, so it wouldn’t be hard to get going! But logistics, logistics. You have to be consistent. If you were to tune in to said videocast, how often would you want to? Once a month? Twice a month? Once a week? I’m thinking they’ll be relatively short, at least at first, 10-15 minutes.

I’m also pondering tying them into my Patreon. My Patreon is an ongoing adventure in “marketing that I don’t really understand but am fiddling about with” and I know that not consistently producing content for it helps it not at all (the problem of course being that I don’t really know what sort of content people want over there). The videos won’t be limited to Patreon subscribers, but maybe I could release them a day early or something. Who knows? Not me!

I’m attending an online marketing conference this week, which has been interesting. I’m doing the free versus the paid option, so I have the day of to watch the conference videos before they disappear, which has been challenging. Thus far it’s been a good reminder of things, and I have learned a few new things to try. But it–and some networking I’ve done over the past few weeks–have reminded me that hey, there are some points of this marketing/publishing part that I’m good at–good enough to teach other people–and that I’m not as terrible as I sometimes feel like I am. So that’s been really nice.

I’d like to do another book-related thing this month. Which do you guys like better, the readalongs or the library book sale find reviews? I mean, it’s too late to do a readalong for this month, but we could get one rolling for the holiday season (not like the holiday season needs more stuff, but hey).

Found anything cool lately, squiders? Please let me know your thoughts!