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Finished the 50 Book Challenge!

And wow, it was kind of a close thing too.  I finished the 50th book not more than a couple of hours ago.  Awesome challenge, though!  

In case you missed it or were interested, the micro-reviews of the first 25 books are here.

26. Colonisation: Aftershocks
Book three in the Colonisation trilogy.  At some point Harry Turtledove got really good at suspense – even the sort of suspense where you know what the big revelation is but you’re so damn impatient to know what everyone’s reaction to it is going to be that it gets unbearable, especially when there’s a good chance this reaction will in some fashion involve atomic bombs.  However, it also started to feel like the editors fell asleep at the wheel here, and I found a doozy of a continuation error.  And as always, even though this was the end of the trilogy, it had no real conclusion, just a seamless segue into the final book of the collected series.

27. World War: Homeward Bound by Harry Turtledove
Originally just called Home, this is the conclusion to Harry Turtledove’s World War and Colonisation series.  After some fairly serious time-jumping at the start of the book, Earth sends a starship to the Lizard’s home planet.  It’s quite different to the earlier books, although still has a few odd inconsistencies in the passage of time and altogether too much repetition.  The cast is much smaller, though, and featuring many familiar faces in a brand new environment.  It reminded me a lot of the old Star Trek TV shows, actually – the ones with more diplomacy than phasers.

28. French for Our Time
French textbook, printed in 1963.  This was partially as a supplementary study tool, but was interesting in that it had provided a good deal of historical insights into 1960s French, and was an interesting look into how language was typically taught fifty years ago.  Let’s just say that modern lessons are much less rigorous but far more compelling.  Also, it contained such fun and outdated words.  Who uses inkwells anymore?  Or takes Latin in school?

29. Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
One of Terry Pratchett’s more recent ones.  Entertaining as always, though it felt a little less polished than his usual works, and almost as though he were writing for a younger audience?  The ending felt sort of unsatisfying compared to what you normally get.  Also, the Feegles annoy the heck out of me.  Their dialogue is so unpleasantly difficult to read.

30. Cosplay Fever Red
Probably should not be including this on the list, since it’s basically a picture book of cosplays from the UK, with a little blurb about each one.  Honestly, while there were a handful of really amazing cosplays, our cons could have blown them out of the water!  Regretted purchase.

31. The Age of Fallibility by George Soros
Non-fiction opinion/analysis.  The first third of the book is agonisingly academic and philosophical, and spends many pages outlining ideas better conveyed in a matter of paragraphs.  I was also somewhat caught off-guard but the blatantly partisan nature of the material, even though it was technically the side of partisanship I ‘agreed’ with.  Overall, while some of the ideas proposed were interesting, even enlightening, my impression was largely of a rich philanthropist mostly impressed with his own intelligence (however deserved, it does not read well.)  However, given the time frame the book was written it (2006), it was at least interesting to see how oddly prophetic it was on some matters (the GFC) and how many others it got quite wrong (the Arab Spring, the path of the Iraq war).

32. We Can Build You by Philip K Dick
This one was about an electronic organ (musical organ, that is) company going into business creating lifelike androids all but indistinguishable from reality.  Actually, I say that, but it’s much more about a society in which psychosis and the mental health industry and culture has warped to massive prevalence and radiation mutants are normalities and the main character is either falling in love or undergoing a psychotic break, I can’t quite tell.  It features Abraham Lincoln prominently.  Good book, but not at all like what the blurb leads you to imagine.  I am still not entirely certain what it was about.

33. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
This is the same author who wrote Men Who Stare At Goats.  He’s part author, part investigative journalist, and in this book delves into the world of psychiatry, particularly relating to the psycopaths.  It’s very well written, very readable, and humorous at many turns.  Surprisingly insightful for such a glib approach to the subject matter.

34. The World Jones Made by Philip K Dick
One of Dick’s better novels (though certainly depressing).  It’s about a man who can see exactly one year into the future, a secret service policeman having troubles with his wife, genetically engineered mutants living in a dome, and mysterious alien beings falling from the sky.

35. The Best of Australian Humorous Writing
Reads more like the lifestyle blog and opinion pages of the Fairfax media.  Mildly amusing on occasion at best.  Overall, fairly disappointing.  I can select humourist blogs at random and get a better selection.  The only genuinely funny article was a Chaser contribution, and I’m pretty sure that came straight from their annual.  No great loss, picked it up for cheap at the Borders liquidation.

36. The Time Machine by H.G.Wells
One of his earliest works that, despite being written over a hundred years ago now, remains fairly unique.  It tells the story of travels to the future, but not a mere thousand years, more eight hundred thousand years, to the point where all language and indeed biology have been rendered nearly unrecognisable, and then further again until the sun itself had changed and the day-night cycle broken.  It’s also the origin of the often-cited Eloi and Morlocks.  Given the style of telling and the era it was written in, it’s surprisingly readable, and quite short, so worth the effort if only for the slice of science fiction history.

37. Earth, The Book (presented by Jon Stewart)
This is a humorous book about everything Earth, written as a guide for aliens who come after humankind is gone.  Surprisingly dense and simultaneously shallow, I had to constantly remind myself that it was a humour book and thus getting annoyed at inaccuracies was both pointless and beside the point.  Maybe because it really did feel like a textbook at times.  It’s mildly amusing, but I wouldn’t really recommend it to anybody, as despite the huge amount of content it’s only occasionally funny, like a choc chip cookie with only one choc chip.

38. Cantata-140 by Philip K. Dick
One of Dick’s more lucid novels, but no less fantastical.  Despite being set in 2080 and written in the 1960s, it’s oddly topical – dealing with a world where there’s the first presidential race with a ‘col’ (coloured) candidate, overpopulation has pushed unemployment levels incredibly high and millions of people go into deep sleep to await a solution, people regularly live to 150, and there’s a massive brothel in space run by a mutant, and the possible solution to all of this comes along in the form of a tear in the dimensional fabric.  It’s a brilliant bit of sci fi, but probably most profound is the mirror it holds up to racism.

39. Candy Freak by Steve Almond
Described as a ‘journey through the chocolate underbelly of America’, which is a fairly apt description.  Non-fiction, very humorously written, full of intriguing factoids and amusing anecdotes and recollections, and a whole lot of what is best described as candy porn.  I kid you not, merely reading the book could cause actual mouth-watering.

40. Why is Q Always Followed by U? by Michael Quinton
It’s kind of a ‘best of etymology’ collection, an A-Z of ‘common’ sayings and their origins.  For language nerds only, as it often goes into needless detail and reference.  Guaranteed to disappoint you for 90% of the origin stories.

41. The Game Players of Titan by Philip K. Dick
Probably one of the best (and most lucid) of Dick’s novels I’ve read yet.  A future in which radiation has rendered the human race virtually sterile, alien psychic-powered ‘vugs’ from Titan are in treaty with the dwindling Earth population, and the remaining humans play board games, gambling title deeds for entire cities and rolling the dice for mating rights in hopes of having ‘luck’ in producing a child.  Awesome, twisty plot.

42. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
Another classic.  It’s easy to see how it became one, and serves as a rather fascinating commentary on art.  The friendships and relationships within are strangely cruel as well, and thus fascinating.  It does, however, suffer that Victoria-era trapping of endless blocks of dialogue and flowery speeches and characters constantly recanting an entire story instead of actually showing it.  (Honestly though, it makes me wish ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ had another volume with movie!Dorian more than anything else.)

43. Level UP! The Guide to Great Video Game Design by Scott Rogers
A sort of manual or textbook for video game design that I think should be required reading for anyone wanting to get into games, or for that matter, already in the games industry. It’s all kinds of brilliant, and is a fairly easy read as the author has a good sense of humour and a plain writing style.

44. Death Most Definite by Trent Jamieson
This book is kind of like a cross between Bleach and the Dresden Files and Dead Like Me.  It’s actually set in Brisbane, which weirded me out more than anything – like it was trying very hard to be set in Brisbane, but maybe I only noticed it because I was familiar with all of the settings.  (Is that how people in New York feel all the time?)  Anyhow, while there are some criticisms that could be levelled at it (I really didn’t like the main characters that much), they’re ultimately worthless as it’s a real page turner and I struggled to put it down for more than ten minutes.  Recommended, especially for Australians who like paranormal action fiction with lots of death and at least two explosions.

45. Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
Book 7 of the Dresden Files.  This one is about necromancy.  And let’s just say, it has one of the coolest action twists of all time.  I swear, it’s like the beautiful imagination of a five year old let loose to write action scenes.

46. The Psychology of Insanity by Bernard Hart
A psychology textbook printed in 1925 (written in 1912).  I think historical science might be becoming a sort of hobby of mine, there’s something fascinating about it.  Most books written close to start of the 20th century are trials to read, and textbooks doubly so, but this one is unusually clearly written, and actually rather enjoyable.  I even learned new things about psychology, particularly in regards to the fundamental bases of such popular psychological assessment techniques such as word association tests.  It’s also an interesting insight into the perceptions of Doctors Freud and Jung within their own time.

47. Dialogue Editing for Motion Pictures by John Purcell
A textbook about dialogue editing for film, although in many respects it’s closer to a technical manual. Despite being written in only 2007 it feels a little outdated (given that physical tape has all but disappeared in favour of purely digital recording) and it’s very focused on the film industry specifically, but there is still some good information regarding dialogue editing that is useful for other mediums (i.e. the whole reason I was reading it in the first place.)  That said, it is not a beginner text at all and should be avoided unless you already know what an OMF or an EDL is.  Most of the terms are explained, but not very well.

48. Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
One of the earlier Discworld novels, featuring the thieves guild and quasi-fantasy Egypt parody.  Good, but not my favourite Discworld novel.  Loved all of the assassin’s guild stuff though.

49. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louise Stevenson
Has all the trappings of a Victorian novella, complete with the page-long paragraphs and unwieldy sentences and excessively flowery language.  It was an interesting means of telling the story though, certainly not what I expected - as it took place almost entirely in the point of view of Dr Jekyll's lawyer and associates, rather than Jekyll himself.  The book also contained several other Victorian-era short stories of a similar flavour (themes of repentant criminals), but none were quite as compelling.  Thrawn Janet in particular was laborious, written almost entirely phonetically in a thick Cockney accent.

50. Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
Book 8 of the Dresden Files.  This one had a little bit of everything!  As brilliant as they are, I do admit that by this point they have begun to feel a little formulaic.  To the series’ credit though, each book builds well on the last while still being relatively strong as a standalone.

Tada!  \o/

I think I shall attempt this challenge again next year, as it unexpectedly did prompt me to keep up with my reading instead of letting it flag.  And considering that there is a linear relationship between how much time I spend in a bookshop and how many books I leave with, it has done well in at least ensuring the to-be-read book pile hasn't grown any larger.

Which reminds me, it's that time of year again - that is to say, reflective meme time.  I'm sure I will make a few more posts of that nature of the next few days.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 2nd, 2012 08:34 am (UTC)
♥ I've only read Dorian Grey and The Time Machine from the list. (You might want to go looking for The League of Extraordinary Gentleman comics if you want more of movie!verse Dorian. Though it's surprisingly more brutal than the film. Alan Moore. ♥) And I've been meaning to ask... but from Philip K. Dick, what do you recommend, Sin?
Jan. 2nd, 2012 03:16 pm (UTC)
That's two more than I expected! You are actually pretty on the ball with classics, aren't you?

Ah yes, but Dorian Gray does not actually feature in the League of Extraordinary Gentleman comics? He makes cameos only I believe. I haven't read them in full, please let me know if I am wrong on this. And frankly, the movie was rubbish, but I'll take what I can get. (Did you ever see it?)

Eeeeh? I doubt you'd like Philip K. Dick at all P-chan. But if you're looking to try something new, I recommend one of his short story collections first and foremost - 'Minority Report' is a good one, as it has the short story that inspired the movie by the same name, although they're all pretty good. If you're after a slightly longer novel, 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' is the one P.K.Dick to read.
Jan. 3rd, 2012 12:19 pm (UTC)
Haha, well I think I read Dorian out of curiousity and Time Machine was from a class at university (though I'd wanted to read it earlier, due to a favoured teacher recommending it). I actually can't stand quite a few classics! Haha, it's the plodding and frivolous language that does my head in and makes me yawn. :P Which is why those two are lovely and short bites.

Ah, maybe he doesn't. It's been years since I actually read them, so I can't be sure. I recall that Hyde was brutal though, utterly without morals and quite sadistic. I did see the film, it was okay, but yeah, only really fuelled my desire to see their original incarnations. Especially Quartermain. ♥ Sean Connery~

What film created Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I know that title, it's so familiar!
Jan. 3rd, 2012 12:28 pm (UTC)
Ahaha, I am the same with many classics. I try to read them for their history, but almost everything written in the Victorian Era is so tedious! The story are told as someone regaling the tale rather than experiencing the tale yourself, complete with rambling sentences and page-long paragraphs and boring digressions and excessively flowery language (perhaps this is where Tolkien's multiple pages of description for a single tree comes from.) Actually, this is much my problem with Mark Twain, too. And yet, Dickens is even older and doesn't seem to suffer this pretension to nearly the same degree?

I think in the film Hyde basically was the Hulk. In the book, though, yes, he was the evil without-moral version of Jekyll, though he was an ugly little dwarf.

I do believe the film you are referring to is Blade Runner. (Although I hear they're remaking it as a proper adaptation now!)

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )