Reading Roundup

Happy Memorial Day, especially to friends and family who have lost a loved one in the Service.

With school letting out and having more free time, I’ve been reading some books and periodicals.

1) 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

I’m actually kind of ashamed that I’ve never read this “classic” before, but I never realized until I read the Forward that it was written simultaneously with the screenplay of the movie.  The story starts pretty slow with the Black Obelisk in Paleolithic times and then establishing how “future Earth” and space exploration developed.  I’m almost half way through and HAL has not made an appearance yet.  Still, I’m enjoying reading it.

2) Eye of the World by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time Book 1)

I’ve been reading Eye of the World for about four or five months now.  Its a long book at 800 pages and I’m frequently busy with home and professional stuff.  I have about 150 or so pages left and have enjoyed the story so far.  Jordan is famous for his “hurry up and wait” method of story-telling, focusing on character motivations and description.

I’ve been warned that Jordan started phoning the books in about a third of the way through the series.  I picked up The Great Hunt (Book 2) used, but will likely read other literature in between books one and two.

3) Conan short stories anthology by Robert E. Howard

 I’m a big fan of the Schwarzenegger Conan movies and have been curious about their basis in fiction.  The original Conan the Barbarian stories were written for pulp magazines by starving short story writer Robert E. Howard in the 1930s before his early death.  Howard is best known for creating the character Tarzan.  Howard was essentially at the forefront of modern fantasy and science fiction writing.  He was a friend and contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft, giant of the “terror” genre.  I would argue that he was the first true fantasy writer, depending upon whether you define Jules Verne as fantasy or science fiction.  I would tend to lean to Verne being science fiction and Howard being the grandfather of modern fantasy writing.  Did you know that people wrote modern fantasy literature before Tolkien?  It’s true!  I’ve only read one Howard story so far (one of his earliest) and I am surprised as to how interesting and good it is.

What is most surprising is how Howard freely imagined his stories taking place at different times in Conan’s life and did not take a linear chronological approach to his writing.  The first story I read, “The Phoenix on the Sword”, focuses on Conan as an established, aging King and Ruler.  The first half focuses on a group of characters plotting his assassination and the second half is the attempt itself.  I won’t spoil it, but it is surprisingly sophisticated and interesting story-telling for what many would consider “low brow” literature.  I’m not sure when I’ll pick it up again, but I’m definitely interested. Some stories take place during his Barbarian days and as he wars to conquer kingdoms.  There are three modern anthologies of his Conan stories that have been published. The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

 4) The Week Magazine

I had been looking for a good periodical that I would enjoy for recreation and a retired colleague recommended and showed me her copy of The Week from that week.  The Week is a weekly news periodical like Newsweek, only with a deliberate moderate political bent.  And I don’t mean that everything in it casts a moderate perspective.  I mean that the extreme liberal and conservative perspectives are included and referenced in every article.  For any given topic, they’ll include what was written about it in The New York Times and The Guardian and what was written in The Washington Post and National Review.  It also has perspectives from international newspapers and periodicals from Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.  I lean pretty far Left, but I’ve been getting sick and tired of only having one side of the dialogue.  I do my political venting on Facebook, mostly, but the problem with that is that most of my friends are liberal and my news feed fills up with extreme left takes on everything.  I agree with the basics of their points, but they spin it just as much as extreme conservatives do and, as a scientist, that really bothers me.  As a culture, we’re pretending like we don’t have lenses by which we color our interpretations.

So, its refreshing to get a mag that collects the best of a wide spectrum of political viewpoints so I don’t have to search the web for all of them. Yes, I could just look it up online or get that all in Feedly.  However, I’d rather just pay to have someone do it for me and have something physical and tangible to hold in my hands.  The magazine also has a “best of the week” tech, science, money, music, housing, TV, books, fashion etc, so it covers a lot of bases.  With a subscription, its only a little more than a buck an issue for 51 weeks.  They also offer digital only or combined digital and print subscriptions.  Retail is four bucks an issue for the physical mag and it is hard to find anywhere but at a large bookstore like Barnes and Noble.  Check it out if it sounds interesting to you!

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