Sci-fi and Heroic Fantasy discussion

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel, #1)
This topic is about Senlin Ascends
50 views
Book Discussions > Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Comments Showing 1-34 of 34 (34 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

This is our discussion of the contemporary fantasy novel...

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel, #1) by Josiah Bancroft Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft
(2018)


message 2: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2663 comments I'm about 3/4's the way through and Senlin is still ascending...


Roger I read this book a while back and I wasn't a big fan, it's pretty dense and the author is ALL over the place, I know that a lot of people enjoyed it and it won Mark Lawrence's self published contest and that's what brought it to the attention of major publishers, but to me it just wasn't that good. Don't get me wrong, there are a ton of novel ideas in the book and plenty of mystery and I can see why other people do enjoy it, but it's really just not for me.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Roger wrote: "I read this book a while back and I wasn't a big fan,..."

4 stars = "not a big fan"? Just checking your scale.


message 5: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 21, 2018 08:39AM) (new)

Starting off, this involves a trip to the "Tower of Babylon" as a real entity in the land of Ur (which seems beyond ancient Babylon is sophistication; it's a steampunk/gunpowder world.)

I immediately recalled a novelette by Ted Chiang, "Tower of Babylon", which fancifully imaged a world where the Tower could really be built all the way up to Heaven (including the difficulty of ensuring the Moon and Sun didn't bash into it after it got up that high, and eventually digging through the sky itself. Recommended.)

At the halfway point, at least, nothing I've seen so far suggests Senlin's Tower's purpose was to reach heaven. (No purpose has been proposed so far.)

Modest spoiler of first chapter: Tom & Marya Senlin are honeymooning at the Tower when they get separated. Now Tom is making his way up the tower in search of his wife.

I'm getting the impression the Tower is a cross between Gulliver's Travels and Disneyland. Each level of the tower brings a different society, different people, different rules, different problems, still a tourist trap. Now leaving Frontierland for Tomorrowland,....


message 6: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2663 comments G33z3r wrote: "At the halfway point, at least, nothing I've seen so far suggests Senlin's Tower's purpose was to reach heaven."

Maybe Heaven is finding one's true love?

G33z3r wrote: "I'm getting the impression the Tower is a cross between Gulliver's Travels and Disneyland"

That is an interesting, and rather accurate, way of putting it.

I must admit I'm enjoying it, not loving it, but am being entertained, always looking forward for the next weird thing to come along. A horrible place but fascinating to watch from a distance. I think it lends itself well to the fact it's on my eReader so I only read it in 10 page increments or so as I commute to work, might otherwise be a bit much to sit down and plow your way through for a hour at a time.

I like how the guidebooks all make it sound like a wonderful place to visit but tend to leave out any (and all) important details, like the fact there's a good chance you may never leave...


Roger G33z3r wrote: "Roger wrote: "I read this book a while back and I wasn't a big fan,..."

4 stars = "not a big fan"? Just checking your scale."


Very true, I think my rating was a bit based off of the hype the book was getting at the time and the fact that I felt like I was supposed to like the book. As I look back I like the book less and less. I have zero intention to continue the series so I probably should adjust my original rating.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

OK, finished. I see book 3 isn't out until September, so I have some time to consider whether I should read further.

I keep thinking I should have some deeper interpretation of each of the floors of the Towers. (view spoiler) It's part of my attempt at a Gulliver's Travels interpretation, he added Swiftly.

First Floor

The entrance level (North American floor numbering in effect.) A wretched hive of scum and villainy. Also, free beer! Beyond the thieves, pirates, slavers, con artists, and such, not much beyond the queue to get to the 2nd floor, aka the Parlor.

This introduces the idea that the Tower turns everyone into a conniving, thieving, selfish snake. (So, a bit like working for any large corporation, but without the stock options. :)

Preview: Tomorrow, the 2nd floor. Admittedly a bit conventional and predictable to discuss the floors in ascending order, but I'm only doing so ironically.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Second Floor: The Parlor

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women paying players;
They have their exits and their entrances, and each man in his time had better use the right exit. Also, tend the fires.

Everyone wants to be part of this participatory dinner theater. People pay to play the parts. Apparently there aren't any actual vendors – even the ticket sellers and medical staff are paying customers playing a part. (There's an interesting story later in the book about someone who thought they had gotten a job at the Parlor, only to discover

Reminded me of the participatory mystery theaters that were popular a few years ago (maybe they still are?) where everyone plays a part, and you could be Agatha Christie or the murderer!

I assumed when reading this that someone wold eventually explain why tending the fires was so important. My hopes were later vindicated.

Not really sure why so many customers keep coming back; this doesn't sound that entertaining. (Maybe they don't have Netflix?) Maybe there's a hallucinogen in the fire?

Interesting that participation is mandatory for anyone hoping to go from the 1st to 3rd levels.

In Tom Senlin's little theater, one of the actors goes crazy and starts using the (actually lethal) props to kill his fellow amateur thespians. ("When you die at the palace, you really die at the palace.") That seems a bit of an extreme anomaly; I guess the authorial intent was to push poor Edith out the wrong door.


message 10: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2663 comments G33z3r wrote: "In Tom Senlin's little theater, one of the actors goes crazy and starts using the (actually lethal) props to kill his fellow amateur thespians. ("When you die at the palace, you really die at the palace.") That seems a bit of an extreme anomaly; I guess the authorial intent was to push poor Edith out the wrong door."

Although it seems less a crime to murder your fellow actors than to let the fires go out, so I suppose if you had homicidal tendencies you could safely act them out in the Parlour?


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Andrea wrote: "Although it seems less a crime to murder your fellow actors than to let the fires go out, so I suppose if you had homicidal tendencies you could safely act them out in the Parlour? ..."

I don't know, your fellow dinner theater guests might decide to shoot back. Surely it wouldn't be so popular, and get so many return visitors (almost addicts) if it were often lethal.

Also, dead men don't tend fires. :)


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Third Floor: The Baths

This sybaritic level seems the ultimate tourist trap, emphasis on trap. Visitors are encouraged to lounge in the spas and bars, squander their money, borrow more, and eventually get the equivalent of debtor's prison: becoming a hod (long-term indentured servant. :)

I got the impression, from the one scene where Tom Senlin actually went to one of the Bath Houses that give the floor its name, that there was some drug in the waters that produced mild euphoria & torpor. OTOH, Senlin didn't seem to become addicted, in that there's no indication he returned to the baths. Anyone else think this?

This is a more plot-heavy level than the lower floors. Senlin makes drinking buddies of John Tarrou, a free-spending, apparent long-time resident who discovers the longer he's remained, the harder it is to go home and explain where he's been. (view spoiler)

Senlin also partners with a local artist, Ogier, who seems to have encountered Tom's wife, Marya. This results in a bargain involving an intricate plan to steal a painting. (view spoiler)

Like Edith from level 2, Tarrou & Ogier become people Senlin leaves behind in his climb to the top.


message 13: by Andrea (last edited Jul 25, 2018 10:25AM) (new) - added it

Andrea | 2663 comments G33z3r wrote: "Also, dead men don't tend fires"

You'd think they wouldn't ban people from the Parlour, at least not for a first offense. Punish them suitably, and if they choose to return you can be pretty darn sure they are going to tend those fires!

(Maybe I've read to much of this book, starting to think like them...)

G33z3r wrote: " that there was some drug in the waters that produced mild euphoria & torpor"

I thought all spas did that, no drugs needed :) Isn't that why we go and pay money to sit in a bucket of hot water?

(view spoiler)


message 14: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 25, 2018 11:05AM) (new)

Andrea wrote: "[spoiler redacted] ..."

SPOILER for the very end: (view spoiler)


message 15: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2663 comments G33z3r wrote: "Andrea wrote: "[spoiler redacted] ..." SPOILER for the very end:."

Ok, just got to the end :) I do have an interview with the author at the end of my copy which I'm still working my through though.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Andrea wrote: "G33z3r wrote: "Andrea wrote: "[spoiler redacted] ..." SPOILER for the very end:."

Ok, just got to the end :) I do have an interview with the author at the end of my copy which I'm still working my..."


Sorry, I thought you'd finished. My bad.


message 17: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2663 comments G33z3r wrote: "Sorry, I thought you'd finished. My bad. "

You spoilered it well with the warning, I finished reading the book last night and read your post this morning. I actually thought I had a lot further to go but 30 pages or so is for "extra" stuff like the interview. I was probably only a page away from the actual spoiler at the time, kind of had to laugh at the timing.


message 18: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 04, 2018 07:20AM) (new)

Forth (?) Floor "New Babel"

Senlin escapes The Baths by being smuggled out with the brothel women. (Not quite sure of the nature of their status. They aren't hods, but neither do they seem free.)

It seems Senlin re-encounters at least one person he met and left behind on each of the previous level, from the basement, beer hauls, parlor & baths. (Adam, Goll, Edith, & Pound & Red Hand). It's a small tower after all :) Plus, there are some newcomers (Voleta, Iren, Rodion.) Pretty much everyone except Marya.

Senlin has been recruited for a management position in the docks, primarily because he's too honest to steal from his new boss. I have to say Goll's approach to Diogenes' quest seems improbably Baroque.

The main business of "New Babel" seems to be electricity, though we don't meet anyone actually involved in that enterprise, just some distant spitzen-sparken-lounden-boomen. Mostly, we hang out on the docks, with occasional visits to the brothel.

After a couple of betrayals, Senlin gets set to move on to the sequel novel. He does expound a theory about what the first four layers of the Tower are about, he gets a clue where Marya may be, and gets ready for a new career of piracy (next book?) Given Tom's previous scrupulously honest nature, I don't see that working out very well.


message 19: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2663 comments I was actually confused as to what actual level New Babel was on. He took an airship to get there, but given he was only one floor below couldn't he just take the stairs? I got the impression it might be a few more floors up, but I'm not sure. But then he was in a rush to get out, the stairs might have been guarded.

Wasn't the product of New Babel helium for the airships? The electricity either a needed ingredient or a side effect? Kind of a waste of product if you just shoot it at the ceiling instead of putting it through wires and sending it upper floors.

I got the first chapter of the next book at the end of mine, seems piracy is indeed the way they go! They do go about it in a rather polite way of course, being Tom and all.

I'm not sure how motivated I am to read the rest. I want to know what other crazy things are on the floors above. And I really want to know if they ever get to the top and what they find there (guess that would be the fourth book that's not published yet). But both the ebook and paperback are rather pricey given my motivation to actually continue. After all it's more a curiosity than a case of "I can't live if I don't know what happens next" kind of thing :)


message 20: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 27, 2018 06:54PM) (new)

Andrea wrote: "I was actually confused as to what actual level New Babel was on. He took an airship to get there, but given he was only one floor below couldn't he just take the stairs..."

Good point, I can't actually cite anything to suggest it's the 4th floor.... except....

I presumed he didn't take the stairs because Pound would be watching them for Senlin attempting to escape the Baths. Assuming there are stairs :) But why use an airship for the ladies, if they could take the stairs?

On the other hand, Finn Goll suggests he was waiting to see if one of his honest, duped tourists from level 1 would make it to New Babel, and that sort of implied to me that New Babel was the next level up from The Baths, however it was reached.


Andrea wrote: "Wasn't the product of New Babel helium for the airships? The electricity either a needed ingredient or a side effect? ..."

Hydrogen, actually. Presumably by electrolysis of water. I recall Edith mentioning her airship (the Stone Cloud) used boilers to warm the hydrogen, causing it to expand, thus increasing the lift still more . I winced, thinking that was an incredibly bad idea. Even if they've never heard of the Hindenburg, you'd think they'd have a few of their own! "Escaped hydrogen is a perennial fear, especially considering the regularity with which a spark is applied to the atmosphere. Incredibly enough, catastrophes are rare."


Andrea wrote: "I'm not sure how motivated I am to read the rest...."

Ditto. Mostly because I have so much else I really want to read, I think it unlikely book 2 will percolate up to the top of my to-read list.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) So I finally started this one, a little bit late. I am only a few pages in and the author's descriptive paragraphs are slowing me down but it's interesting so far.

G33z3r, I agree the concept reminds me of Tower of Babylon by Ted Chiang.


message 22: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Davidson | 2 comments I've just finished this - having studiously avoided this thread until I was done. I have to agree with the comments comparing it to Gulliver's Travels. Both the fact that each floor is so distinctive, but also the transformation of Senlin as he ascends.

I enjoyed this, and found myself progressively more and more hooked as the book progressed. Early on the characterisation was a bit uneven imho and as that improved I found it easier to immerse myself. Clearly it's a world whose gender politics are pretty old-fashioned, but I'm not sure that fully excuses the limited range of stock character types that the female population of the Tower ended up having to occupy.

That said, I think there were some really original and interesting ideas, and I do find myself wanting to read more about the adventures of the surviving protagonists!


message 23: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2663 comments Will wrote: "but I'm not sure that fully excuses the limited range of stock character types that the female population of the Tower ended up having to occupy."

Interestingly though, at the end (view spoiler).

I'm not sure the stock male characters have that much more range from their own stereotypes. It's interesting how we notice when women are cast in certain roles, but actually don't question when men are trapped in their own. I mean all the stock men were drunks and hung out in the brothels eyeing those stock women prostitutes. I mean Senlin can't be the only decent male in the entire Tower, can he?


message 24: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Davidson | 2 comments Andrea wrote: "I mean Senlin can't be the only decent male in the entire Tower, can he? "

Those are fair points. As a separate comment, though, I am not sure that we are supposed to see Senlin as entirely decent, are we? It may just be me, but as much as Gulliver's Travels, one of the things this story put me in mind of was Candide. It had the same slightly absurdist elements (like the beer-go-round or whatever it was called) but there did also feel like there was a sense of Senlin encountering character after character who existed in order to chip away at his naivety, passivity and optimism. (I am spoilering the rest of this comment just as a precaution, as it contains observations about the later part of the book):

(view spoiler)


message 25: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2663 comments I agree with your comments, though Senlin has to keep some of his decency/morality or we'd not accept him as the protagonist anymore. I mean I don't want to read a book where the main character is say the Commisioner or Finn Goll (short story sure, but not a four book series). Having a villain as a main character is tough, even Dexter, a serial killer, is "good" because he only kills criminals, if he'd kill just anyone the readers wouldn't root for him. So Senlin is going to have to stay on the fine line of "good" at least till the end of the last book :)

Interesting how Senlin's character is kind of like Gareth's in Dragonsbane. They both naive to the extreme and are having their dreams of what they thought was real crushed by the truth of the world. Of course Senlin Ascends is a darker tale, and Senlin is the protagonist where Gareth isn't so Senlin is being transformed more by the world he's forced to come to terms with.

So there are two things that would keep me reading (1) what crazy things will be found on the other floors and (2) how far will Senlin go to get his wife, and if/when he gets that far, will he still be worthy of her (or she of him, one must presume she's going through her own transformation, I can see her being strong enough to start to learn some dirty tricks of her own to try to escape, but we'll see)


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

By the time he gets to the docks of New babel, Senlin is less naive. He admits his cultivation of Iren is self-serving, hoping to win her over from Finn Goll. It doesn't work, but she at leasts feels bad about beating him up :) She's also taken along on the escape, but as she's unconscious at the time, it's unclear she actually wanted to abandon Goll.

Adam is also an odd case, as he hadn't really planned on sailing off with Senlin, but ends up doing so more of necessity than conviction.

Senlin's greatest virtue seems to be not holding a grudge.


Karen | 72 comments I have to say I wasn't terribly fond of this. For most of the book, I didn't really buy into the "love story" between Marya and Senlin. It was only when he told the story of her departure for college that I thought that there might be genuine affection.
I only really got absorbed by the plot and the relationships in the Boudoir. (view spoiler)
2.5 stars for me


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) G33z3r wrote: "I keep thinking I should have some deeper interpretation of each of the floors ..."

I agree. I'm on the second floor now. Each is interesting so far in its own way but I don't see how I am supposed to interpret them within a larger context.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) I'm now a few chapters into the "Baths" section. The story has gotten more interesting as it has gone along but I'm still not sure where it's going.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) G33z3r wrote: "Good point, I can't actually cite anything to suggest it's the 4th floor.... except....

I presumed he didn't take the stairs because Pound would be watching them for Senlin attempting to escape the Baths. Assuming there are stairs :) But why use an airship for the ladies, if they could take the stairs?"


I'm pretty sure the airship was transporting some boxes down to the Baths which had to be unloaded before the women were able to board. Maybe it's some kind of regular cargo ferry?

I wasn't very into this book in the beginning and was thinking about dumping it, but I've gotten to the point that I enjoy it and look forward to seeing what awaits Senlin at each future stop.


message 31: by D.S. (new) - rated it 4 stars

D.S. I guess I'm just easy. Well, I know I am. I actually enjoyed Senlin Ascends so much I immediately went on and read Arm of the Sphinx. I can see where Josiah must have had the ideas for the progression of the story hashed out on notes and in his outline. The entire first book is buildup, characterization and world building. I do agree that it is dense, and sometimes his writing makes the imagery of the world he's trying to create difficult to discern. Still the story is compelling.

I also agree that the love story is a bit contrived, but in that I also see realism. No spoilers, but I think how Senlin sees himself, and how he imagines his love for Marya are very realistic. I think it will be interesting to see how their relationship evolves after this tragic event.

Overall I truly like the creation of this world within a world, this amazing Tower full of dimensions and purpose that we have to weave in and out of as the layers of the story are peeled back, and we continue discover more about the character that is Senlin, who he was, what he is, and what he may yet become.

Again, no spoilers, but I have to admit I enjoyed Arm of the Sphinx even more. I recommend both books.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) I finished this one a few days ago. I did end up liking it quite a bit and will continue on with the series. The first third or so was difficult because the story seems to move very slowly while a lot of time is spent world-building, as D.S. mentions above. The last third or so was exciting and I found myself more and more interested in finding out what would become of Senlin and his friends. Bancroft's prose is quite wordy at times and overly descriptive which was a big reason for the slow start. The idea of the tower and its ringdoms is unique and interesting, especially the revelation near the end that the tower is actually a steam engine. But for what?

Also, I read somewhere that the series is actually FOUR books, not three as I had originally been led to believe. Book three is scheduled for release now in 2019, not later 2018 as it was just a few weeks ago, and of course there's no sign of book 4. Sigh. Time to file this series on the George R.R. Martin shelf?


Faith | 124 comments I loved this book. I also enjoyed the second book in the series, but not as much as the first. Probably its quirkiness was no longer as surprising and charming to me. My review of the first book:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 34: by D.S. (new) - rated it 4 stars

D.S. The George R.R. Shelf!?!! Oh no say it ain’t so!


back to top