The Incomparable Book Club discussion

Book suggestions for future episodes?

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message 1: by Scott (new)

Scott McNulty (blankbaby) | 15 comments Mod
Hey all you Incomparable fans/fellows! Since this group has a discussion group (fancy!) I thought we might as well start a discussion.

Anyone have any books that they are just dying to hear be discussed on a future episode of the Incomparable?

message 2: by Teo (new)

Teo Sartori (neoteo) | 2 comments I loved Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age.
It was story perhaps more about the failure of real A.I. than anything else, and in the last few decades, we seem to have come to accept the unlikelihood of nanobots and A.I. and taken a more practical approach in most of our scientific and technological endeavours.

From this slightly disenchanted and pragmatic perspective I am nevertheless, or perhaps because of it, still deeply fascinated by the Diamond Age's description of a system (the Primer) that made education as natural and fun as reading/listening to a story. Through a combination of (pseudo) A.I. and human actors (Mechanical Turk?) the Primer adapted to a growing child's changing requirements moving from a fairy tale into a collaborative story into an encyclopedia you could just ask questions.

Whilst the Primer relied on nano-tech it is, in capability, not far from our most recent and best eBook readers (yes, iPad). Could relatively few upgrades (Siri, Retina) make a Primer a reality, much like the Hitchhiker's Guide pretty much is iPad + Wikipedia? Does the concept still hold up or have we, in the intervening years, discovered better ways of learning?

message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason Snell (jasonsnell) | 45 comments Mod
Diamond Age is my favorite Stephenson. We are threatening to do an entire podcast about Stephenson at some point... though it would be impossible to go back and re-read them all!!

message 4: by Scott (new)

Scott McNulty (blankbaby) | 15 comments Mod
Diamond Age is also my favorite Stephenson (Get out of my head, Jason!). Though I would have to re-read it to talk about it intelligently... luckily he wrote it before he decided that every book he writes needs to be over 900 pages.

message 5: by Teo (last edited Feb 15, 2012 02:50PM) (new)

Teo Sartori (neoteo) | 2 comments I also love the Baroque Cycle for doing in reality exactly what the Primer does in the Diamond Age: teach you about history by turning it into a story.

message 6: by Marc (new)

Marc Ziani de Ferranti (mezdef) | 2 comments I think some discussion around the Sci-Fi classics would be very interesting, especially due to some on the podcast being very opinionated and having lit-crit backgrounds. Not asking for a tear-down, but honest opinions about books that are usually enshrined tend to be very interesting. Asimov, Clarke, Vonnegut, K. Dick, Heinlein. Discussion of why they are classics, if they hold up (despite the hype / nostalgia), and how they have impacted the genre as a whole.

Almost definitely too much for one podcast. Movies get 2 parters, why not the book club?

Failing that, Diamond Age is also my favourite Stephenson, so that also gets my vote.

message 7: by Scott (new)

Scott McNulty (blankbaby) | 15 comments Mod
I can tell you right now: Vonnegut stands up and so does Dick... Heinlein maybe not so much (though shockingly just the other day someone told me Heinlein was his favorite writer. I tried to grok that, and I couldn't).

I have a soft place in my heart for Asimov. I dare say he is my favorite scifi author, but even when I was devouring his work (in high school) I realized that he had great concepts but his writing wasn't exactly great (though he was incredibly prolific and there is something to the fact that the man could write and write and write and the majority of it was interesting, if not a shining example of the writing craft).

I certainly think that each of those authors could have episodes devoted just to their body of work.

message 8: by Marcos (new)

Marcos (marcoshuerta) | 1 comments How about some Connie Willis? I just read Doomsday Book and absolutely loved it. Now I just need to read more.

message 9: by Jason (new)

Jason Snell (jasonsnell) | 45 comments Mod
Re: Willis. Go to To Say Nothing of the Dog next. Great, same universe, but VERY funny. The flipside of the super-dark Doomsday Book. Avoid Blackout/All Clear though.

message 10: by Stelian (new)

Stelian Iancu (siancu) How about some newer Stephenson? Anathem or Reamde.

message 11: by Scott (new)

Scott McNulty (blankbaby) | 15 comments Mod
Stelian, you're in luck! We actually did a podcast about Reamde:

message 12: by Glenn (new)

Glenn Fleishman | 2 comments Mod
I have talked about Anathem on at least two Incomparable podcasts, because the book requires that you rewrite your brain's neural code.

message 13: by Ben (new)

Ben | 1 comments Would love to see some discussion about Stanislaw Lem. We read The Cyberiad for the HacDC Gentle Hacker's Literary Salon last year, and got one of our best turnouts ever to discuss it.

message 14: by Glenn (new)

Glenn Fleishman | 2 comments Mod
I am huge Lem fan. Have read a good hunk of his oeuvre.

message 15: by Janice (new)

Janice (archergal) | 10 comments Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey. I'm reading it now. Space opera within the solar system FTW!

message 16: by Tim (new)

Tim | 13 comments I love The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, it's probably my favourite Stephenson book. As for Lem, if one is going to cover Solaris: The Definitive Edition, go with the definitive edition since it's the only direct translation from Polish. All the others are translated from the French translation and have the names changed.

A different kind of book choice would be, How to Write Groundhog Day which is by the screenwriter. It's e-book only, and it goes through the various drafts and comments on various decisions and changes along the way. The e-book format allows for cross-linking of the notes to the script drafts and I quite liked it.

I'd really like to see Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke covered in various podcasts. Especially The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and possibly some of the juveniles. One could do Rocket Ship Galileo to contrast with the upcoming movie Iron Sky.

message 17: by Nathaniel (new)

Nathaniel | 2 comments I'm making my way through Iain M Banks' Culture books, now halfway through the latest one, Surface Detail, which is up there in my personal pantheon with Excession, Player of Games, and Look to Windward. Would love to hear if my strongly not-positive reaction to Use of Weapons was unusual. I will be sorry when they're done.

I enjoyed the Reamde podcast but was baffled by the group's pronunciation of "Anathem". It seemed unequivocal in the book that the emphasis should land on the second syllable, like "anathema", not the first syllable, like "anthem".

message 18: by Jason (new)

Jason Snell (jasonsnell) | 45 comments Mod
See, I pronounce it the same way that "analemma" is pronounced. (And since there's an analemma on the cover of Anathem, I think I'm justified!)

At least we all know how to pronounce ream-dee.

message 19: by Scott (new)

Scott McNulty (blankbaby) | 15 comments Mod
I love Banks' Culture books, and Surface Detail was a humdinger. I haven't read Use of Weapons in a long time, so I don't recall if I liked it or not (and for some reason I skipped over Look to Windward, so I am going to read that as well!).

If you are into Bank's in general you should check out his most recent non-Culture SF Book: Transition. I thought it was very clever.

message 20: by Marc (last edited Mar 04, 2012 07:43PM) (new)

Marc Ziani de Ferranti (mezdef) | 2 comments Some great suggestions here and I look forward to hearing the esteemed panel cover any one, but we haven't seen many fantasy suggestions. Perhaps there are fewer intelligent, or well written (that I know of) fantasy as opposed to sci-fi. Admittedly a large chunk of fantasy is, amongst other things, taken up by heroic fantasy etc which is perhaps somewhat less intellectually stimulating, and more guilty pleasure.

I have good memories of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series, Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy, and Sergey Lukyanenko's Nightwatch (and associated sequels).

I'm not claiming any of these are (or are not) either well-written or intelligent (please don't dam me to literary-taste hell), just that I have fond memories of each. Would any of these be worth discussing, or are there other fantasy novels that are interesting (always looking to add to my reading-list!) and/or merit discussion?

message 21: by Michael (new)

Michael J. (stalebreadlunch) | 3 comments I'd love some discussion of Gene Wolfe as I think he is far less well known than he ought to be for how (ducks) incomparable he is.

You could go two ways with that. Either attack "The Big Ones" and go for some fraction of The New/Long/Short Sun books that he is best known for or instead go for lesser known stuff.

The Latro books might be even better (also shorter) and are certainly narratively even more unusual (Latro is basically the guy from Memento except he's a Roman mercenary bouncing around Greece during the aftermath of one of the Persian Wars. Also he can see gods.)

The Knight/Wizard would also be appropriate for their deconstruction of our expectations of fantasy tropes.

Then there are any number of individual gems that are short and all uncommon in their own way. Like The Sorcerer's House which presents as a series of letters or There Are Doors which I can only describe as a fever dream of slipping between realities leaving no choice but to just accept what is in front of you and keep reading.

And of course all of the above provide a crash course on The Unreliable Narrator as a literary device.

Then again, I suppose what I want most is for you to discuss something really wonderful that I have no idea yet exists, and you've been doing great with that so far!

message 22: by Scott (new)

Scott McNulty (blankbaby) | 15 comments Mod
Michael, what would you suggest is a good starting point for Wolfe? I tried to read some of his stuff ages ago but couldn't get through it. Now that I'm older, and wiser (ha!), perhaps my reading palate has gotten more refined.

message 23: by Tim (new)

Tim | 13 comments I haven't been able to get through Gene Wolfe either. I tried The Shadow of the Torturer but the language made it difficult to read.

message 24: by Michael (new)

Michael J. (stalebreadlunch) | 3 comments Hmm. I always have trouble deciding on a recommendation especially when I don't know someone well personally.

If forced to chose a single entry point I think I'd go for The Knight and The Wizard. (They are a single book in two volumes. Wolfe has a habit of doing this. Think of it as a single Neal Stephenson sized volume rather than two normal sized books.)

The are a bit more accessible because the main character is a boy from our world who is transported to another world and is writing a long letter to his brother to explain what happened. So you get to have someone with a similar point of reference to us explaining things rather than a completely alien point of view.

It is also wonderful for taking basic well worn ideas from fantasy (Knight, Wizard, Elf, Witch, Giant) and smacking you over the head with a totally different view on the archetype.

If that doesn't sound interesting or you are really into Greek myth, go for the Latro books instead. Again they are two volumes, but you can get them bound in one. There's also a third sort of coda in Egypt, but that was written later and is more of an optional dip back in.

These books are probably better than The Wizard Knight, and the language itself is pretty straightforward, but the narrative structure is stranger since the narrator can't remember more than a day back. So you often get a dose of his own confusion about events. Also there are various greek and persian names, and he often uses uncommon variants or translations of names as a roman visitor at the time might hear them. So instead of getting the names we are used to hearing (and have invested with considerable baggage), we get, eg, "Redface Island," "Tower Hill," "Rope," and "Thought" in place of "The Peloponnese," "Corinth," "Sparta," and "Athens." Whether this is a frustration or a really interesting way to shed pre-conceved notions is up to you.

And if all of these options are too long for a diving in point, go for The Sorcerer's House. It is all of 300 pages and is self contained. It lacks some of the Wolfe special sauce of his grander works, but it does get you a glimpse of his habit of presenting stories as found documents and giving you narrators who have every reason to lie. The language is straightforward and it takes place in modern America so there isn't as much of the "I'm lost in a foreign world" feeling that puts some people off of Wolfe (though on the other hand that is also what makes him great). You do get a little of that sense from the exploration of the house the main character inherits, so it might be decent toe dabbling.

Finally, if you are looking for a way in to his "Sun" books, The Long Sun books are the most accessible, though I would recommend reading from the start (New/Long/Short) if possible. But the New Sun books and the Long Sun books don't really touch on each other much, so it isn't a big deal.

If you are having trouble with Wolfe because you don't understand the language or can't figure out exactly what is going on, my recommendation would be not to try to figure it out right away, but instead to just keep reading and let the world he is painting wash over you. Part of the joy of reading his books is the feeling of how alien the world you are viewing is, so cultivate that feeling and let it sink in bit by bit rather than needing to know the significance of everything on first read.

Sorry that turned into such a long discussion rather than just the simple "go read this one" that was probably appropriate. Really if you just pick up any of the books I mentioned here you won't go wrong.

Here's the links in one place in the order I brought them up:

The Wizard Knight in Omnibus:
The Latro Books in Onmibus:
The Sorcerer's House:

message 25: by Chancerubbage (new)

Chancerubbage | 3 comments I haven't been able to dive into long form Gene Wolfe as easily as some of the short story collections, but I'm not sure I find those palatable either. I get at best a sense of Lovecraft where instead of scorched earth evil you have the twisted moral center of an unreliable narrator to contend with, where the resolution of the story's events, presented as supposedly a happy release of tension, actually suddenly pushes into much darker corners than the story itself was suggesting, even reflecting shadow on the authors intent.. Just an impression, perhaps badly formed.

message 26: by Michael (new)

Michael J. (stalebreadlunch) | 3 comments Well, I see the fact that so many people have difficulty getting into Wolfe as all the more reason to cover a book or two of his!

That said, I really don't think people should get too tied up in "Gene Wolfe is hard to read" thoughts.

In the last year I've read a number of books discussed on "The Incomperable," and I think, for instance, that "The Dream of Perpetual Motion," "The City and The City," and "The Gone Away World" all share a good deal with Wolfe's work. They have a common characteristic that they make you think about the world, how the narrator fits into it, and how he sees it. That's really all there is to the heart of the "unreliable narrator" issue.

As for difficulty, I would personally rate most of Wolfe's books as easier reads then, for instance, Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, "Infinite Jest," or even "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe."

So I guess I'm just trying to say that if you're interested in Wolfe, don't let the fact that you've heard he's hard (or found him hard years ago) deter you. Pick up "The Wizard Knight" or "Latro in the Mist" and see what you think.

But I didn't mean to make this into the "why I do/do not like Gene Wolfe" discussion. Especially since it does me no good since I already know about him! So I'll shut up about him now and hope you tell me about wonderful authors that I haven't heard of.

message 27: by Nathaniel (new)

Nathaniel | 2 comments Neal Stephenson on title pronunciation:

message 28: by Jason (new)

Jason Miller (jasonemiller) | 1 comments Let me (+1)^10 the novels of Vonnegut idea. I'd also suggest that the panel read his recent biography and talk about it AFTER they talk about the stories.

Please let me also submit Terry Pratchett for consideration. I don't know if he's in the Incomparable's wheelhouse, but he deserves some celebration of the Incomparable variety, I think.

There's also Harlan Ellison. He has an important place in 'speculative fiction', as he's written for the Twilight Zone and Star Trek among other television programs and some movies, I think. (Didn't he sue the makers of The Terminator movie for stealing from him?) And Don Johjnson starred in a movie adaptation of the great story "A Boy and His Dog".

Have you thought about Neil Gaiman?

How about some hard science fiction writers like Charles Sheffield or James P. Hogan?

Ok, now I'm headed to the library to pick up Diamond Age. Should be a quick read, right?

message 29: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 3 comments Speaking of Harlan Ellison...

Dangerous Visions

message 30: by carol. (new)

carol. I've been enjoying listening to the podcasts, and just finished an older one--The Wise Man's Fear where you mention you might do a bookclub episode of "books/series we wish we never started/read" or something along those lines. I think that would be a hysterical episode--but perhaps you've done it and I can't identify it from your listings?

Or, perhaps an episode of "classic sci-fi where the depictions of women or other races doesn't suck?"

message 31: by Jan (new)

Jan | 1 comments I recently discovered the incomparable podcast and really like it. Great that there is a place on the web where culture is discussed, and sci fi too!

I think perhaps Super sad true love story would be a good book for this podcast. It is not a sci fi genre book with spacecraft and time travel and so on... but the best books are often books that defy the genre borders.

This book is a novel which takes place in a very near future, in which:
- iPhone like devices and facebook like culture has completely taken over the world.
- America is controlled by China.
- people use biotechnology extensively to stay young and good looking.
I found it a very convincing book, well written, and funny too. Highly recommend it and would love to hear the people of the incomparable podcast talking about it.

message 32: by Stefano (new)

Stefano Costantini | 1 comments I'd like to suggest the Peter Grant series ( by Ben Aaronovitch.

Here's from the blurb on "My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (and as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit - we do paperwork so real coppers don't have to - and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England.

Now I'm a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden . . . and there's something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair."

The series is not complete (I think there should be 6 novels eventually) but I've greatly enjoyed the first three.

message 33: by Chad (new)

Chad Kohalyk (chadkoh) | 19 comments How about the Young Fic series Leviathan, Behemoth and Goliath?

message 34: by Bill (new)

Bill ODonnell (agentbillo) | 2 comments Perhaps it's too nerdy for the Incomparable, but there hasn't been a 'Lord of the Rings' episode yet? It would be great to have a book club episode just about the book, not the movies.

I have read the books at least 5 or 6 times, and I've listened to the Rob Inglis audiobook many more times than that. I've even read the book in parallel with the reader's companion by Hammond and Scull. Yes, it is my own little obsession.

How great would it be to have a three episode chapter by chapter breakdown of the 2004 edition? And by great, I mean torture for everybody who is not a LOTR nut.

message 35: by Bill (new)

Bill ODonnell (agentbillo) | 2 comments How about an episode of books you read when you were young that you are embarrassed to admit now?

For me, it's Alan Dean Foster. As a young teenager I read all of them, pretty much. I picked on up when I was home from college (which was many years ago, sadly), and read a chapter. "Ew," I said to my younger self, "Really?"

message 36: by carol. (new)

carol. Bill wrote: "How about an episode of books you read when you were young that you are embarrassed to admit now?

For me, it's Alan Dean Foster. As a young teenager I read all of them, pretty much. I picked on up..."

Ha, that's a priceless one. Piers Anthony, anyone?

message 37: by Chad (new)

Chad Kohalyk (chadkoh) | 19 comments Forgotten Realms, especially R. A. Salvatore was my pleasure.

message 38: by Tarek (last edited Dec 24, 2012 04:03AM) (new)

Tarek | 2 comments Stefano wrote: "I'd like to suggest the Peter Grant series ( by Ben Aaronovitch.

Here's from the blurb on "My name is Peter Grant and until January..."

I would certainly +1 the suggestion of the Ben Aaronovitch 'Rivers of London' books. They seem like the perfect Incomparable series - well except for the lack of Zepplins.

The author wrote episodes of Doctor Who, it has an interesting take on magic and gods in the modern world, and they clip along at a great pace.

Is there a way to just gift the first one to Scott or Jason as a very obvious bribe?

message 39: by Jason (new)

Jason Snell (jasonsnell) | 45 comments Mod
Might combine Aaronivitch with the new Paul Cornell, London Falling...

message 40: by Tarek (new)

Tarek | 2 comments Jason wrote: "Might combine Aaronivitch with the new Paul Cornell, London Falling..."

Well that's London Falling added to my Kindle for Christmas reading. I'd only read some of Cornell's comics until today.

If it ends up being a themed show around Doctor Who writers and you're looking for a third author, then perhaps Mark Gatiss' Luicfer Box novels.

They're quite good fun, though I must admit I prefer the books that they seem to be inspired by (Sherlock Holmes, Raffles, and George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series).

message 41: by Ben (new)

Ben Kirton | 1 comments I haven't seen anything by Sara Douglass in everybody's read lists so I would to suggest The Axis Trilogy.
The first book is BattleAxe followed by Enchanter and Starman.

message 42: by David (new)

David Fischer | 2 comments Has The Incomparable done Jim Butcher yet?

How about teen lit by Margaret Peteron Haddix (Out of Time, or Shadow Children)

Old school with Robert Heinlein. He leaves me ambivalent, with intriguing stories told by a dirty old man.

message 43: by Michael (last edited Dec 26, 2012 10:11PM) (new)

Michael Fessler | 2 comments A few other suggestions:

LeGuin's Earthsea books - particularly a discussion of the 1st 3 on their own, and in light of the 2nd 3. Leguin, Ursula

Diane Duane's "Young Wizards" series, starting with "So You Want To Be A Wizard" and continuing for 10 volumes. I read the first one in middle school in the 80's, and have now introduced my 11- and 9-year old kids to them. I love her integration of science and magic, among other things. She is polishing and updating some bits that have not aged well (mostly dated technology), and releasing them as "New Millennium Edition" ebooks. Diane Duane

Diana Wynne Jones. Diana Wynne Jones

Joe Haldeman. (Maybe a compare/constrast of Heinlein's Starship Troopers and The Forever War/Forever Peace/Forever Free, but Haldeman has done much more.) Joe Haldeman

David Gerrold. "Jumping off the Earth/Bouncing off the Moon/Leaping for the Stars" felt pretty fresh to me. David Gerrold

Alastair Reynolds. Alastair Reynolds

Vonda McIntyre. Vonda N. McIntyre

And a long shot - how about Sylvia Louise Engdahl? Sylvia Louise Engdahl She is still writing in her late 70's - many might remember "The Far Side of Evil" and "Enchantress from the Stars," but I recall being challenged and haunted by "This Star Shall Abide" as a kid, and excited to learn later of the existence of two sequels - "Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains" and "The Doors of the Universe."

message 44: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 3 comments I'm surprised there hasn't been a Peter F. Hamilton episode. Great North Road just came out in the US today.

message 45: by Seth (new)

Seth Jolly | 1 comments Now that Saga's been covered, I'd like to see you guys tackle a few other great comics, like Usagi Yojimbo, Walking Dead and American Vampire.

message 46: by Tim (new)

Tim | 13 comments Andy Ihnatko covered Usagi Yojimbo on his podcast, so you could listen to that one. I have the problem that I've never read it, so now I'm so far behind that I'm probably not going to start.

I'm probably one of the few people who isn't a fan of Walking Dead (comic or TV show). I keep trying to watch the TV show, but I can't seem to get through it.

On Michael's suggestion of Alastair Reynolds, I'm hit and miss on him. I loved The Prefect, but I hated Revelation Space (I couldn't finish it and returned the Audible book). So, I've kind of given up on him.

Oh, there's also Steven Erikson, although his books seem to have delayed releases in the US. I prefer his Malazan Book of the Fallen series to the Song of Ice and Fire.

message 47: by David (new)

David (prooffreader) | 7 comments How about authors that write both SF and non-SF, like Iain M. Banks, Margaret Atwood or Cormac McCarthy? I imagine there might be a few more, these are the ones who came to me immediately.

message 48: by Tim (new)

Tim | 13 comments I'd love an episode on Iain M. Banks's Culture series. I've read a few and I love the universe he's created. An episode would give me a reason to finally finish the series to date.

message 49: by David (new)

David Fischer | 2 comments Bummed to hear Jason Snel didn't enjoy Butcher's "Stormfront", so Dresden Files won't be an Incomparable topic.

message 50: by Seva (new)

Seva (v_ross) | 1 comments +1 for Stanislaw Lem

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